Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Fork to Fork

If you love gardening and gardening programs, take a few minutes to watch this lovely video called FORK TO FORK

It's beautiful, gentle and filled with some of my favoute things; a lovely cottage garden, a great old house and delicious food.  There are six episodes and you can find them all here FORK TO FORK on YouTube

Thursday, 25 July 2013

How to Make a Rose Bowl

After weeks without rain we had a gully washer of a storm last night.  It was a glorious relief after such a long, hot spell.  But unfortunately, as with most storms, there were a few casualties in the garden. 

These beautiful roses where just too delicate to stand up to the pelting rain. I woke to find them with their heads bent and stems broken.   There was nothing I could do but cut them back and stake the remaining buds.  

The petals are a bit bruised but with a little luck they will survive for a day or two so we can enjoy their luxurious scent.  But they have hardly any stems at all!

I tried putting them in a short jam jar, but the heavy flower heads kept tumbling out.  Then I remembered a trick I'd seen on the telly using sticky tape to make a rose bowl.

It's so easy.  Just take a heavy, shallow bowl and criss-cross the top with strips of sticky tape.  Fill the bowl with water and insert the stems through the sticky tape grid.

Remember to top up the water in the bowl.  You will be surprised how thirsty flowers can be, and enjoy!  Even battered and bruised, these roses are still beautiful.  

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Fresh Strawberry Syrup, a Solution for Diminishing Returns

When the berry season first started, our strawberries were big, fat and very juicy.   We are still getting a few strawberries from our tiny patch but they are getting increasingly seedy and smaller.  Gone are the days of strawberries and cream. 

I've been through the 'Jam Phase'  There aren't enough berries to make a batch of jam but just enough to make fresh Strawberry Syrup for brunch.

I think this would be good over ice cream or cake or waffles, but I made these SUPER SIMPLE PANCAKES .   Begin by making the Strawberry Syrup.

Here's how to do it:

Place two cups of sliced fresh strawberries into a small sauce pan.  Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly until the sugar melts.  Bring the heat up and slowly boil the mixture for about 5 minutes or until the berries are soft and slightly syrup-y.   

Now, I have an aversion to seeds so I used a stick blender and whizzed the berries until they were smooth.   Place a wire strainer over a bowl and pour the strawberry syrup into the strainer.  Gently stir with a wooden spoon to separate seeds from the syrup.    Your strawberry syrup is ready to serve!

Fresh strawberry syrup is my solution for diminishing berry returns. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Domineering Day Lilies

It's hot and I am lazy so not much going on here except a cup of tea in the garden.  When I get a short burst of energy, I wander around and inspect the borders.

While all the other flowers in the garden are drooping in the heat, the day lilies are basking in the strong sunshine.

The double orange ones are almost painful to look at in the dazzling sun.

I am glad they are in bloom.  We've reached that strange stage in high summer where all the early flowers are gone and the late bloomers have yet to begin. 

The day lilies are like the jesters in a Shakespearean drama.  They provide comic relief in their bright, pointed caps and distract you while the scenery is slowly being changed.

Once this heatwave breaks, the borders will have a dramatic second flush of flowers.  For now, the day lilies are performing centre stage.

They certainly know how to put on a show!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Retro-Recipe Vanilla Pudding

There is something about summer that makes me feel nostalgic. I was looking through my 1950's Betty Crocker cookbook and saw this recipe for Cornstarch Custard. That sounds pretty grim but actually it's Vanilla Pudding!  

When I was a kid, my Mom used Jello Pudding mix to make Vanilla Pudding.  I don't know why she didn't make it from scratch, it's so easy.   Here's the recipe straight from Betty Crocker:

Mix together in a saucepan....
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch (cornflour)* 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg

Stir in gradually.....
2 cups milk

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly until mixture boils.  Boil 1 minute (until the pudding is thick).

Blend in....
1 tablespoon butter (if desired)
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 

The recipe book says to pour the pudding into sherbert glasses and chill.  I used small jars with screw on lids to make a sort of home made pudding pot, perfect for picnics.  

Summertime makes me nostalgic and eating Vanilla Pudding makes me feel like a kid again!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Chandos Beauty

For once I am bang on schedule for an Almost Wordless Wednesday and I have a Beauty for you.  No, that's her name, Chandos Beauty.

This rose is a new addition to my garden, an impulse purchase, and I can't stop looking at her.

Evenings are when I get to spend the most time in my garden and Chandos Beauty is wonderful in the evening light.  

Her scent is wonderful, too.   It's what I would consider a traditional rose fragrance.

Click HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION  about Chandos Beauty.  I am just going to enjoy the view.  

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Skinny Pizza

There is one four letter word that is NOT allowed in our house, DIET!  I don't like the concept and I don't believe diets work.  That doesn't mean we aren't health conscious, we just try to practice moderation.  I emphasize TRY!

When we have a full blown day of food the next day we cut back a bit.  I suppose you could compare it to this 5:2 diet only without the torturous fasting part.  

This unusually warm weather helps.  No one feels like eating a lot when it's this hot.  But one can only live on salads and sandwiches for so long then you want something spicy and hot.  Today I wanted PIZZA!  Not heavy duty thick crust pizza but a light, crispy pizza .... hold the cheese!

Yes, you have to turn on the oven, but this pizza cooks in 10 minutes or less! 
Here's how to do it.  First make a batch of PIZZA DOUGH  just click on the link for the recipe.   I used about 1/4 of the dough for each pizza. 

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F.  Lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside while you roll out the crust. 

Dust your work surface and a rolling pin with flour.   Roll out the pizza dough as thinly  as you can, using more flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Place the skinny crust on the baking sheet.  

Spread a little pasta sauce over the crust and add VERY finely sliced vegetables. You can add any topping you like.  I used onions and fresh basil. It's important to slice the veggies very thinly because this pizza is going to bake in 10 minutes or LESS!  If you are using meat as a topping, make sure it is cooked before adding it to the pizza.

Place the skinny pizza into the oven and bake it until the edges are golden and crisp.  This will probably take LESS than 10 minutes in a hot oven.  I'd check the pizza after five minutes to see how quickly it's baking.

And there you have it.... a delicious skinny pizza you can enjoy without feeling guilty!  Mangia bene!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Gromit Unleashed!

Something wonderful is happening all over Bristol!  Gromit has been unleashed and you can find him all over the city.  You have to look closely or you might miss him.  Gromit is in disguise.  

He is raising money for Bristol Children's Hospital.  Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal supports one of the best children's hospitals in Europe where kids can get live saving surgery and treatment.  

There are 80 Gromits to visit and we have until September 8th to find them all.  Click HERE for a map of the Gromit Trail.

In October there will be an auction and all the Gromits will be sold to benefit the Grand Appeal.  If you want to have a chance to bid on a Gromit visit this LINK.

If you don't have room for a five foot tall Gromit in your garden, you can visit the Gromit Unleashed Shop by clicking HERE.    Andy* and I found 18 Gromits this weekend and there are so many more to see!  

These are just a few of our favourites.  I hope we don't run out of time before we can find them all!

*A special thanks to Andy for letting me use his great Gromit pix!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Nasturtiums and Snail's Shells

Nasturtiums are amazing!  They are so easy to grow from seed, come in some of the most brilliant colours and are edible!  

I've got them scattered all around the garden.  This week they've finally started to bloom.

They do have one habit that can be a bit of a problem....they love to ramble. Nasturtiums will sprawl all over the place once they get going.

I've got an idea.  I am going to see if I can encourage this plant to grow up a cane.  It's in a big pot by the kitchen door.  The plan is to just pop out and pick the flowers when I want to make a colourful salad.  

I understand Calendula flowers are edible, too.  I've got some of them growing just outside the French doors.   Speaking of French... here's a little trick I saw in a French garden.  

The blackbirds are always eating the snails in my garden and leaving empty shells behind.  Pop an empty snail's shell on the end of your garden stakes. The round shell protects you from impaling yourself on the stake when working with leafy plants.  C'est si bon!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Fresh Strawberry Cake

My strawberry patch and I are having an awkward moment.  There are too many strawberries to eat at one sitting and too few to make jam.  I decided to perform a kitchen experiment and baked a fresh strawberry cake.

Now, I will be the first to admit it isn't the prettiest cake I've ever seen.  The strawberries in the batter makes it look a little ...um, well strange.  I was tempted to add some food colouring but I am glad I didn't.  I am not sure a lurid pink cake would look less strange. Yes, the glaze is very pink but that's because it's made from ripe strawberries, icing sugar and a spoonful of cream cheese.

If you want to participate in this kitchen experiment, here's how I made Fresh Strawberry Cake:

Heat the oven to 180C/350F.  Grease a round cake tin, 7inches/18cm. I used a paper cake case to line my tin.  They are really handy if you want to take your cakes on picnics and can be purchased at Pound shops for next to nothing.

150 grams hulled ripe strawberries- rinsed in cold water and lightly mashed 
60 grams room temperature butter or Stork Margarine
125 grams caster sugar
100 grams plain flour
1 egg - room temperature
2 Tablespoons plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg and beat for about a minute.  Add the salt, baking soda, vanilla and yogurt, beat until well combined.  Mix in the flour.  Finally, fold in the mashed strawberries.   

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 30 - 40 minutes. If your berries are really ripe and juicy it may take a bit longer. The cake is done when the top springs back when lightly touched and a sharp knife inserted in the centre of the cake come out clean 

You could dust the cake with powdered sugar and serve it with cream, custard or ice cream.  I still have lots of ripe berries so I made this simple glaze to drizzle over the cake:

Take a few very ripe berries and mash them with a tablespoon of cream cheese.  Sift a cup or two of icing sugar and beat it into the strawberry-cream cheese mixture a little at a time until you have a very pink glaze.  Spoon the glaze over the cake and serve with a few more berries....

Refrigerate any leftover cake.  Served cold this cake reminds me of strawberry ice cream!  

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Bee's Tea

I have what I loosely call a small lavender hedge.  It's really just a strip of scruffy lavender plants that edge the drive.  But this time of year it could be a tiny piece of Provence.


The scent is heady like a giant bar of Lavender soap.   

During the daylight hours it has a low droning hum... a soft, constant buzz.

Dozens of bees carefully visit each tiny flower to have their 'tea'.

And I sit among them, enjoying their company and the wonderful smell of Lavender.  It's the bee's knees!

Monday, 8 July 2013


Today is my official first day of summer.  You know it's summer when you have enough strawberries to make jam!

Mind you, it was only a tiny batch of jam, only two jars. But we had far too many berries for us to eat fresh with cream.  

If you've never made jam before I strongly suggest you try it.  It's not nearly as scary as it sounds.   For this batch I just used the special Jam Sugar that already has pectin in it.  Simply follow the instructions on the packet...

And you will get great results every time.   Here is another great strawberry jam recipe from PAM THE JAM CORBIN.   

Ask around, you may find an old family recipe used by your Great Granny, but do give jam making a try.  It's what makes summer official!  

Thursday, 4 July 2013

White Roses, Lavender and Pinks

I've done it again... I've miss Almost Wordless Wednesday!   Here is what I should have posted if I'd done it properly....

My latest home grown posy of white climbing roses....

Clove scented pinks ....

And a few sprigs of lavender.  It smells amazing!