Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween!

My friend, Peter Pumpkin-Head, wanted me to wish you a safe and happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Dartington Hall One Year to the Day

Yesterday, we were strolling around the gardens at Dartington Hall, one of our local leaf peeping places, when Andy said, 'When were we here last autumn?'

'I dunno', I mumbled from behind my camera.  I was busy taking photos of the Virginia Creeper that covers the gatehouse wall. 

'It must have been about this time, give or take a day',  he said. 

'Wasn't it closer to November?' I muttered as I focused in on the tiny thatched cottage we call The Three Bears' House. 

'You'll have to look at the blog when you get home and find out',  said Andy as we stood and looked at the view tumbling down the hill and out into the Dart Valley.  

'OK, can you move your feel out of the shot, please', I instructed as the toes of Andy's shoes were just visible on the stone path.  

So when we got home I checked .... It was ONE YEAR to the day EXACTLY!  
Click HERE to get the details to plan your visit to DARTINGTON HALL .

Monday, 27 October 2014

Fall Foliage Gardening

I am not going to pretend to be a great gardener.  As a matter of fact, my style is plant it and pray, but years of gardening have taught me a trick or two.

For example, if you want fabulous fall colour go shopping for foliage plants NOW!  If the plants look stunning at the garden centre on a wet afternoon they are going to look even better in your garden on a crisp autumn morning!

There are a few basic bomb proof plants that always deliver luminous leaves.   Acers or Japanese Maples are my favourite but they can be painfully pricey! The Smoke Bush (Cotinus Coggygria) is a good second choice and will be a fraction of the price of an Acer.  I have two in my small garden, a purple variety and a Green Fountain.

When it comes to red you can't go wrong with the Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush.  

I've chosen alatus compactus, sounds like a spell from a Harry Potter movie. Red Cascade has lovely little berries.  They remind me of the wild bittersweet that used to line the country fence rows in Missouri.

The leaves are a knock-out red...not that this little plant has many leaves left.

Time is running out and the leaves are falling fast....

Better get to that garden centre before it's too late!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dunster Castle

I don't know how to begin this post.  I could tell you how Dunster Castle was first a moat and bailey castle in Anglo-Saxon times and how a timber castle was built on the site after the Norman Conquest.  In the 12th century, a stone keep was built and the gradual transition from fortress to grand country house began.

I could try to explain the impact Dunster Castle has had all through its long history but all the time my mind just keeps going 'WOW'.  Wow, we are walking through a 13th Century Gate.

Wow, no wonder they call this the 'Dream Garden'

Wow, look at that fabulous view across the Bristol Channel to Wales.

I know, I haven't mentioned the stunning interiors, the ancient watermill, or the charming village of Dunster.  I am still trying to take it all in myself. 

For more information, click on the links below.  If you ever have the opportunity you must visit Dunster Castle.  

CLICK HERE for Dunster Castle Visitor Information

CLICK HERE for a brief history of Dunster Castle

Monday, 20 October 2014

Wooden Ladle and Cotton Napkins

I am not a great one for shopping.  I don't go in for shoes or handbags or any of the things ladies are supposed to fancy.  I love buying things for the house. 

My real passion is furniture and soft furnishings but there comes a time when you can't squeeze in another cushion let alone another bow-backed Windsor chair.  

With the rooms fully furnished, I've resorted to collecting smaller household items.  Today I treated myself to this beautiful wooden ladle and some rustic cotton napkins. 

I know, they aren't a pair of Jimmy Choo's but who needs posh shoes when you've got a gorgeous wooden ladle! 

Both ladle and napkins were purchased at Sainsbury's.   I know... Sainsbury's!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Oat and Apricot Cookies

I did something I try NOT to do this morning...go to the supermarket on a Saturday.  We only have one full size grocery store in our town so, needless to say, it's always busy.  Saturdays are crazy busy!  

I wouldn't have done it except things were getting desperate here; no milk, no eggs, no flour, no onions or carrots, and no oats.  So off I went at the crack of sparrow fart* to do the grocery shopping.  I suppose I was lucky.  Maybe it was just too early for most people to be out on a Saturday morning but it went pretty serious trolley rage and I even got everything on my list.  Well, OK, I forgot one thing but that's not bad for me.  

I don't know why, but have you noticed oats come in bags big enough to feed horses!  These bags are enormous.  Where are you supposed to store all that? Well, I couldn't find a space for all the oats so I put as much as I could in my giant oatmeal jar and used the rest to make these....oat and apricot cookies.

Yes, the one thing I forgot was raisins or these would have been oatmeal raisin cookies.  The dried apricots make a lovely change.  All you have to do is FOLLOW THE RECIPE FOR THESE TRADITIONAL OATMEAL COOKIES and substitute chopped dried apricots for the raisins. 

And now I've realised I've forgotten something else but I refuse to go back to the supermarket for it...not on a Saturday afternoon.  

I'm going to stay here and have tea and oat and apricot cookies.  

*Crack of sparrow fart = very early in the  morning

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Carrot Tea Loaf with Cream Cheese Frosting

At least once a week I bake something.  I love to bake and love sharing it with family and friends.  But as I was grating the carrots I got to one ever bakes for me.

I can't remember the last time I had a birthday cake that I didn't make myself.  Actually, I can't remember the last time I had a birthday cake.

Now, I don't want to sound like 'poor me' or anything but it was a sobering thought on which I ruminated while I licked the last of the cake batter out off the mixing bowl.

I mean, to me, baking for someone is a way of showing affection.

Making someone's favourite cookie is like saying 'I love you' only with butter and sugar...I thought as I polished off the cream cheese frosting bowl.

Then, as I lapped the last of the icing off the spatula, it occurred to me...if I didn't do the baking then I wouldn't get all the cook's perks of licking the beaters, having that first warm cookie, or tasting the first bit of cake.   

I LIKE being the one who bakes.  It's just how it's supposed to be.  Oh, I nearly forgot CLICK HERE to get the recipe for Martha Stewart's Carrot Tea Loaf with Cream Cheese Frosting.

*Did that sound like a line from Breaking Bad?  'I AM the one who bakes'!


Every once in a while you just have to do those chores you hate; clean the oven, sweep out the garage, clean the kitchen cabinets.  Today was kitchen cabinet cleaning day so I climbed up the step ladder and took down all the teapots that live on top of the cupboards and gave everything a good scrub.

Now, I knew I had a teapot or two but they seem to be multiplying up there.  I can give you tea in several different ways, for example, the Keep Calm and drink tea fashion.

Perhaps you prefer the BoHo-Chic-Flower-Power-Hippy version, complete with hand-crafted cups and saucers.

If you are more of a High Tea at Budleigh Salterton type we've got you covered. My Mum-n-Law, Maggie, bought these cups from Fielding's of Sidmouth. Andy insists on having the one with gold trim. 

The teapot that gets the most use is the little brown T-for-one pot.   That big Brown Betty should have air miles.  I bought it from a special shop in St. Charles Missouri years before I ever knew I'd be living in England.  It may be the only Brown Betty to immigrate back to Britain.  I carried it back in my suitcase when I moved here...which was no mean feat.... that teapot is MASSIVE!  Cup of tea, anyone?

P.S.  There are more but perhaps we'll save those for another day.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Monday, 13 October 2014

Easy Oat Bread

People have funny notions about home made bread. Those who make sourdough may think using yeast is a cheat.  Those who use fresh yeast may consider using dry rapid-rise yeast a travesty.  Almost all bread bakers will say using a bread machine is unthinkable!

I had a bit of a thing about using the dough hook on my KitchenAid.  Andy gave it to me as a Christmas present and I love it...but it's a serious bit of equipment. I suppose I was a bit intimidated by the dough hook - until today!

Today I used it to make a loaf of Easy Oat Bread..easy because the machine does all the heavy work.  Here are the ingredients you will need:

1 1/4 cups room temperature milk
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup regular porridge oats

In the bowl of the mixer, stir together the milk, yeast, sugar and 1 cup flour. Place the bowl on the mixer stand and add the rest of the flour, the oil, and the salt.  Turn the mixer on low and allow the dough hook to combine the ingredients.  Finally, add the oats and continue to mix at the lowest speed until the oats are absorbed into the bread dough.  Once all the ingredients are combined, turn the mixer up to a slightly higher speed to 'knead' the dough. Let the machine work for about 5 - 10 minutes.  The dough is ready when it springs back when gently 'prodded'.  

Place the dough into a large buttered bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and place it in a warm place so the dough will rise.

When the dough has doubled in size,  remove it from the bowl and gently knead it for a moment to 'knock it back'.  Roll the dough into a loaf shape and put in into a buttered 8x5 inch loaf tin.   Leave the dough to double in size again.  If you like, you can brush the top of the loaf with a bit of milk, sprinkle over a few oats, and slash the top with a shape knife.  It's not necessary but it does make the bread look rather nice. 

Bake in a preheated oven (350F/180C) for about 30-35 minutes.  The loaf should sound hollow when you give it a gentle tap.  When baked, remove the bread from the tin and cool on a wire rack.   This bread is good with a rich thick soup as a rustic meal and makes wonderful toast.  

And if you don't have a big mixer with a dough hook, you can always make this recipe the old fashioned way and knead it by hand.  Anyway, we all know that's really the best way to bake heavy machinery required.  

Would you like a little whole wheat in your loaf?  Try this RECIPE for OAT BREAD instead.  

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pear Cake from My Recipe-a-Day Diary

Recently I've developed a strange habit.  When I see a recipe I want to try, I jot it down in my strange recipe shorthand in my diary.  Most people have diaries full of social appointments...mine is full of cooking ingredients!  

This is good AND bad.  Good to have a Recipe-a-Day diary...bad because I don't know who is the original author of the recipe.  If this is your recipe, thank you for sharing it.  I am sorry I can't give you credit but let me know and I'll make amends.   Today's recipe is for Pear Cake...pure and nonsense! 

2-4 pears (depending on the size) peeled, cored, cut 1/4 inch thick slices
180 grams caster sugar
4 eggs 
150 grams plain flour
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder 
125 grams butter- melted then allowed to cool slightly 

Heat the oven to 180C/350F.   Butter a square baking tin and dust it liberally with flour.  Arrange the pear slices in the bottom of the tin so they completely cover the gaps allowed.  

Place the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the are very pale and doubled in volume.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Turn the mixer down a bit and add the dry ingredients a little at a time, then slowly pour the butter down the side of the mixing bowl beating the butter into the batter.  Gently pour the batter over the pears in the baking tin.  

Bake for about 35-45 minutes, testing the cake at about 30 minutes.   The cake should spring back when lightly touched and be a light golden colour.  Remove the cake from the tin while it is still hot so the fruit will be on the top of the cake.... upside-down-cake style.  

You can serve this with custard or ice cream or just a little dusting of icing sugar.  I just had a chunk of it plain, warm from the oven!  

*A special thank you to Arthur for giving me these lovely pears from his allotment.  They were juicy and delicious. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Fabulous Mr. Fox

Sometimes you run across something so beautiful on the internet that you have to share it.  Richard Bowler's charming wildlife photography is one of those truly beautiful things...

Richard is based in North Wales and his photographic models are the wild creatures of Britain.  I am particularly fond of his fox photos.  Then I see the photos of hares or tiny field mice and I am sure they are my favourites, too. 

If you are beguiled by wildlife, pop over to RICHARD BOWLER'S WEBSITE  and take a look at the photographs in his gallery.  It's really too beautiful not to share.  

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Unseasonably Peachy

I make it a rule to try to eat locally sourced foods in season but some times the market will have an out-of-season fruit so beautiful I can't resist it.   These white peaches from Spain were my latest transgression.  You will recognize them from the photograph at the top of this page.

I was pretty sure they would be hard as bullets when I bought them ...and they were. I hoped they would ripen in time but they started to wrinkle rather than ripen.  It was time to use them or loose them.  

I find that slightly under ripe peaches are greatly improved by peeling them, slicing then into bite sized pieces, and macerating them with a spoonful of sugar.  The tricky part is the peeling.  

Here's an easy trick that will work on peaches and tomatoes.  Place the fruit into a large bowl, pour over boiling water and wait for about 60 seconds.  Remove the peaches from the hot water and let them cool for a minute or two.  Using a paring knife, the skins should easily slip off the flesh.  

I used a spoonful of vanilla sugar for these lovely peaches, then placed them in the refrigerator for an hour or two.  The sugar softens the flesh and makes a delicious syrup from the juice.  I have to say, these tasted just as good as they looked!  

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Bit About Butter

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about the use of CUP MEASUREMENTS  in American recipes.  I got a lot of wonderful comments and feedback from my European readers and several comments about butter. 

Many American recipes will have listed in the ingredients 'a stick of butter'.  This is most confusing to a baker who has never purchased a 'stick of butter'.   'How much is a stick?' was the recurring question.

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify the stick of butter issue.  (Sorry about the pitiful pun)  In the States, butter and margarine are often sold in one pound packages.  Each package contains four sticks of butter, therefore, a stick of butter weighs 4 ounces .   When melted, the stick of butter will measure 1/2 cup or 4 fluid ounces.  

So when your recipe says a stick of butter it really means:

4 ounces of butter in the old fashion pound and ounces weight

1/2 cup butter in American cup measures  OR 4 fluid ounces when melted

Just don't ask me how many grams that is... I haven't a clue!