Monday, 31 March 2014

Sunday in Shepton Beauchamp

Yesterday was Mothering Sunday in Britain so Andy, Andy's Mum - Maggie, and I went to Shepton Beauchamp for a day out.  It seemed like the whole village was in bloom.

This plant was covered in lady birds, or ladybugs, as they say in the States.

Every garden had something in bloom.  This garden had drifts of daffodils.

And the churchyard was full of daffs, too.

We even had sunshine!  It was a perfect spring day.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Cake Baking, Take 2

I've had a terrible time trying to bake a cake today.  Everything was going well until I got into a muddle with the KitchenAid.   I confused the lever which starts the mixer with the lever that lowers the paddle into the mixing bowl.  I think there is still some cake batter on the ceiling.  

Then I used the wrong size baking tin and this is what happened while the cake was in the oven..

I thought, 'I can salvage this' but no.  When I took the cake out of the oven it fell flatter than a pancake.  It was completely hollow inside!  Well, I am not a woman easily defeated!

If first you don't succeed, bake a different recipe!  

Monday, 24 March 2014

Work in Progress

It is bitterly cold today, colder than it has been for most of the winter.  I have to say, I am not looking forward to working on my pottery projects.  The 'pottery' is really just a corner of the unheated garage.

It's not too bad when the kiln is belching out heat.  Unfortunately, nothing is being fired today so my only source of heat is this...

So I've put on several layers of clothing, topped off with my work smock, and an apron.  It's not a glamorous look but it's warm. 

I've thrown a rather nice little bowl.  Now it's time to get down to the really messy job, recycling clay.

Most professional potters collect large amounts of trimmings before recycling them into reusable clay.  I keep my scraps in old plastic candy tubs and recycle small batches.  I don't have an inch of storage to spare. 

I've brought the damp greenware into the house to dry.  It's a slow process and there are no shortcuts, but we are making progress... slowly.

Saturday, 22 March 2014


I read a lot of baking blogs... A WHOLE LOT!  One of the most beautiful blogs is from I AM BAKER .   Visit this site and you will find recipes for the most wonderful cakes and bakes and some very helpful tips.  

This recipe for GOOP is an excellent example.  Buttering and flouring a muffin tin is a bit of a mess, but from now on I am going to use GOOP!  Here's how to make it:

GOOP! (aka Home made cake release)

1 cup shortening (think Trex or Crisco)
1 cup plain flour
1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)

Place all the ingredients into a bowl and beat it by hand until all the ingredient are combined and the texture is creamy.  

Store the GOOP in an airtight container, in the refrigerator. When you are ready to bake,  use a pastry brush to spread the GOOP over the sides and bottom of your baking tin.  Brilliant idea!

Click HERE to see more from I AM BAKER.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Maple and Oat Scones

I am a very careful shopper, especially when it comes to food.  I believe in keeping my store cupboard stocked with the basic ingredients, a few herbs and spices, and the best vanilla extract I can find.  So when I purchased a little bottle of maple flavouring, it seemed like a really extravagant thing to do.  

I don't even remember why I bought it...some recipe I've already forgotten about, I suppose.  But there it sat, looking at me every time I opened the spice cupboard.  The guilt was unbearable!  I had to find a recipe using maple flavouring. 

I'd seen a recipe for Maple Oat Nut Scones by The Pioneer Woman.  They looked delicious, just one problem, I didn't have any nuts in the house.  And the recipe makes eight huge scones and uses five cups of icing sugar in the frosting recipe.  I think I'll have to save that recipe for when we have company for tea.  But, I was inspired and here is my recipe for MAPLE OAT SCONES:

1 1/3 cups plain flour
1/4 cup oats (blitz in the food processor if you want finer scones)
2 Tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold butter (diced) or 1/2 cup Stork baking margarine
1 egg
1/4 cup cream
1 teaspoon maple flavouring (similar to vanilla extract)*

Begin by preheating the oven to 350F/170C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set to one side.

In a large bowl combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter to work the dry ingredients into the butter.  You can rub the butter into the dry ingredients if you don't have a pastry cutter.  The mixture should look like coarse bread crumbs.  

In another bowl, mix together the cream, egg, and maple flavouring.  Pour this into the flour mixture and gently mix until the dough starts to come together.  
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat it into a circle about an inch thick.  Cut the circle into four equal wedges and place the scones on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the scones are set and barely golden. Do not over bake them or they will be dry.  Place the scones on a wire rack to cool.

When the scones are almost completely cooled, mix up the following ingredients to make a glaze:

1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon maple flavouring
1 Tablespoon strong coffee (instant coffee is excellent for this)

Beat the glaze ingredients together until smooth and drizzle over the scones. 

There is a long running debate on the proper pronunciation of the word 'scone'.  Some say it is pronounced scone as in cone...

Others say it should scone as in, this scone is nearly GONE!   These scones are a lovely teatime treat but they will also be brilliant for breakfast.  Enjoy!

*You can purchase MAPLE FLAVOURING HERE!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Starting a New Pottery Project - Chubby Jug

I've been 'bowled' over by the response my omelette bowl project received. (Sorry)  Now it's time to try something new and just a little scary.   I've decided it's time to get a handle on making handles.  (Sorry again).  I've started by making a chubby jug.

In the States, we would call this a pitcher.  Jugs are another thing all together, but that's just the difference between the Queen's English and American English.  

Over the past few weeks I've thrown dozens of bowls so making the body wasn't too difficult, so far so good.  Now comes the tricky part, the handles!

I decided to use a technique called 'pulling' the handles.  They don't look like much at this stage you just have to take a deep breath and go for it.

This is where it can go badly wrong.  Press too hard and you break the too gentle and the handle won't be strong enough to support the jug.  If the handles are too wet, they flop.  If the handles are too dry, the clay will crack.  This is fraught with danger.  Enough of this prevaricating...JUST DO IT!

Phew!  I think we did it!  Time to put the pitcher in a safe place to dry and have a fortifying cup of tea.  Only the bisque firing, glazing, and another firing to go!  

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Super Sunday!

Today, the weather has just about been perfect, if a tad chilly.  It really felt as if Spring was in the air.  To celebrate I took a quick photographic inventory of what is currently in bloom in our little garden.

Yes, the sky really is that shade of blue today....stunning!

The grape hyacinths have really spread this year.  I let them set seed before trimming them down to the ground and this is the result.

I love these Pieris flowers.  These are wonderful plants.  They are evergreen and when they put on new foliage in the spring it is the most beautiful shade of red. 

Remember these white tulips from a previous post?  We enjoyed them in the house for a couple of weeks.  I've planted them out in the garden and they are still blooming. 

The quince buds have begun to open and show their delicate coloured flowers. It produced two large fruits last year!

You can't tell it from this photo but this forget-me-not is growing in a crack of the concrete garden path.  They grow like weeds here. I tried for years to grow them in my garden in the States with no success so I let them do as they please here.

Speaking of weeds, well plants that have introduced themselves into the garden, look at this perfect colour combination.   The celandines will have to go but they look so pretty with the pale primrose. I didn't have the heart to dig them out....YET!  

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Dust Bunny Gets Snail Mail

Most days there isn't much to get excited about when the post arrives.  We generally get the usual stuff -  junk mail, begging letters, and utility bills. But today something special arrived in the post, a parcel for the Dust Bunny.  It was a gift from these lovely creatures,  CELIA HART'S STUDIO ASSISTANTS.

The parcel contained this lovely postcard.  Written on the back was this message...

I can't tell you how pleased the Dust Bunny was to receive this parcel.  He is fond of a bit of catnip and he hardly ever gets any post, except for those reminder cards from the vet when his check-up and vaccinations are due.

This was MUCH nicer than a letter from the VET!  He took a big sniff of the Cat Mint and was just about to chomp down on it when we whisked it away.

If I follow Celia's beautifully illustrated planting instructions, the Dust Bunny will soon have a garden filled with all the Cat Mint he could possibly want. 

The Dust Bunny is very pleased with the contents of his parcel and I am enchanted by the care and love Celia has put into this plant-filled package.   Thank you Tabby One and Ginger One for being so generous with your Cat Mint.  And thank you Celia for being so very kind.  

Please take a few moments to visit CELIA HART'S BLOG AND WEBSITE.  You will enjoy her entertaining and informative blog posts and she has the most wonderful prints you can purchase.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Tiniest Flower

Our cat, the Dust Bunny, is always bringing stuff in from the garden.  Most of the time it's bits of grass, muddy paws, and frequently a baby slug which has attached itself to a bit of tummy fur.  I spend lots of time 'tidying up' behind him.  But today he brought in something quite extraordinary!  

He had his breakfast and snuggled down on the little sofa in the sitting room for a snooze. So far - so normal, but laying beside him, as if it had been carefully placed there was the tiniest flower I've ever seen!

I confess to having a rather over- active imagination so it was easy for me to leap to the conclusion that the Dust Bunny had found this diminutive specimen and thought it would be a lovely gift for me.

I immediately set out to find ways to demonstrate just how small this beautiful blossom is, taking a photo of the flower beside the lens cap of my camera.

I found the petals would fit between the lines of an old diary.  I compared it to the word, page, printed on a letter.  It is TINY and very blue!

I have no idea what it is so if you know, please leave me a note in the comments section. I am going to give the Dust Bunny a cuddle and thank him for the lovely gift from the garden... even though I know the next time he will bring in a SLUG! 

* I've been told this flower is called Speedwell (Veronica).  CLICK HERE to see the medicinal properties of this beautiful flower.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Orange Drizzle Muffins

Have you noticed, oranges are everywhere right now!  I read a lot of cookery bloggers and they are busy boiling up marmalade and making all sorts of Blood Orange confections.  I even saw a recipe for Blood Orange Panna Cotta. 

Now, I don't usually go in for anything that exotic.  Matter of fact, I don't think I've ever eaten a blood orange in my life but I do keep tangerines, clementines, and old fashioned oranges in my fruit bowl.  

So with a surfeit of oranges, I decided to jump on the orange band waggon and make Orange Drizzle Muffins.  

It's a bit of a cheat really, because all you have to do is replace the lemon in my LEMON DRIZZLE MUFFIN RECIPE with the zest and juice of an orange to make this recipe.  

I suppose you could even use one of those trendy Blood Oranges to make these muffins but if it's round and orange any variety will work. 

CLICK HERE TO GET THE RECIPE, just remember to replace the lemon with a juicy ORANGE!   Like they say, it's easy, peasy orange squeezy.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

£1.99 Tulips - 'White Marvel'

I know this isn't the most economical way to purchase tulips, three bulbs for £1.99, but I saw them at the garden centre and had to have them. 

They were three little White Marvel tulips planted in a small pot, just tight buds when I bought them.  

After a week or so on the kitchen window ledge they started to stretch up and open.

Now they are on the chest in the sitting room, looking gorgeous!  At first sight they seem to be pure white but if you look closely you will see a faint touch of mauve veining.

When they've finished blooming in the house, I'll transplant them into the garden.  £1.99 isn't bad for a perpetual tulip posy!