Friday, 29 May 2015

Going Slug Pellet Free

Ask almost any gardener in Devon what their biggest gardening problem is and they will probably say 'slugs and snails'.  Well, that's what I would tell you.  I've abandoned all hope of hostas, despaired over the loss of delphiniums.  As for lettuces, let's not talk about that. It really is too depressing.

After years of struggling I've surrendered to the slugs.  I've let them eat the plants they love and decided to make a garden of what is left behind.  I am not telling you these plants are completely slug proof but they seem to have the ability to fight back...or maybe they outgrow the ravages of gastropod gang warfare.

Recently, the garden was visited by two hedgehogs.  Despite the fact they are noisy, flea-ridden, and poop all over the garden, I am determined to do everything I can to encourage them to visit us regularly.  This means the use of slug pellets is forbidden.  I decided to take an inventory of the surviving plants and found the list to be surprisingly long.

It included almost all spring bulbs and flowering shrubs.  You can plant as many fuchias, hydrangeas, and flowering quince as you like. The iris are not bothered, nor are the perennial geraniums and poppies

Most of the tougher herbs do well, too.  Things like lavender, chives, sage, cat mint, and salvias even seem to slightly repel the pests.

Ox Eye Daisies, Mountain Bluet, and Nigella are growing like weeds without giving a thought to the slugs. 

Roses may have other creepy crawlies, but they don't suffer with snails.

Heucheras, the Marmite of the plant world, you either love them or loathe them, are immune to molluscs.  (I love them)

So, here in no particular order, are some of the plants I've found to be slug-snail resistant:

Spring bulbs: daffs, tulips, etc.
Flowering shrubs
Perennial Geraniums
Japanese Anemomes
Sages and Salvias
Daisies: Ox Eye and Shasta (once established)
Poppies: all varieties so far
Catnip: the Dust Bunny has his own patch
Black Eyed Susans
Campanula: the little one that grows on walls
Mountain Bluet 

I am sure I've missed listing something, but it is early in the growing season and later plants are sure to pop up as time goes by.   We still have all sorts of bugs nibbling on the flowers but that's just nature.  Fortunately we have ladybugs, birds and hopefully, hedgehogs to sort them out.  

Friday, 22 May 2015

Brown Sugar Cookies from Downunder

Now this is a first!  Today's sweet inspiration comes from The Hungry Mum in Sydney, Australia. She posted a photo of these cookies on Twitter and I was hooked with one look.

These are my kind of cookies, soft, sweet, and made from store cupboard ingredients you already have on hand.  Best of all you only need a bowl and a spoon to mix them, no heavy machinery is required.

There is just ONE little kink, an Australian cup measure is equal to 8.45 US ounces.  That means you may have to add a bit more flour if you are using US measuring cups.  

Remember the rule:  1 US cup = 8 fluid ounces 

So if you find the dough is a bit too soft, gradually add a tablespoon of flour, or two, and mix until you get a soft dough you can roll into walnut size balls.  

Here's the recipe:

190 grams butter - melted
1 cup soft brown sugar - lightly packed 
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups plain flour - and a little extra if you need it
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  Line baking sheets with baking paper and set to one side. 

Mix 3/4 cup brown sugar with the melted butter, stir to combine.  Add the egg, vanilla extract, baking powder and stir.  Finally, add the flour and give it all one more stir until all the flour is incorporated.  

Place the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar into a bowl.  Scoop out about a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball.  Drop the dough ball into the bowl of brown sugar and give it a twirl to coat it. Place the dough ball onto the lined baking tray and gently press it into a cookie shape with a fork.  

Bake the cookies for about 9 to 10 minutes or until they turn a light golden colour.  Cool on a wire rack, then munch! 

Now I know why kangaroos have pouches, they keep a few Brown Sugar Cookies in them for snacks. If you would like to see more delicious recipes from The Hungry MumCLICK HERE TO TAKE A QUICK TRIP TO THE LAND DOWN UNDER.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Stolen 15th Century Church Art Is Found!

It isn't very often that you read something in the newspapers that fills your heart with delight. You may remember the post I wrote on the ancient church in the tiny village of Torbryan.  It contains one of the most complete Medieval rood screens in Britain.  

Not long after this photo was taken, thieves entered the church and tore out some of the 15th century panels.  It was a cruel and devastating blow to the people who loved this little church and the art it had preserved for so many centuries. 

Today there is wonderful news...the stolen panels have been FOUND!  They will require some restoration work but will be returned to their original positions in the rood screen.   To assure the safety of this precious work of art, a security system has been installed.  It all seems like a modern day miracle to have them back again.

CLICK HERE to read more about how the panels were recovered.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Rhubarb and Custard Cake

If you were to make a list of truly traditional British puddings (that's desserts if you are American) rhubarb and custard will be near the top.  So when Arthur, my allotment friend, gave me a batch of rhubarb I knew I had to bake a Rhubarb and Custard Cake.

I must confess, before I came to live in Britain I wasn't a fan of rhubarb.  I often wondered who was the first person to be brave enough to taste rhubarb for the first time.  I mean, if anything ever looked poisonous, it's rhubarb. 

But the British love it.  You can bet if they have a veg plot, they are growing rhubarb.  I really had no choice but to love rhubarb, too.  Shall we bake a cake?

Begin by slicing 200 grams of rhubarb, sprinkle over 25 grams of sugar and roast it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 200C/400F.  When the rhubarb is tender, take it from the oven and let it cool.  Turn the heat down in the oven to 180C/350F.

You will also need some custard.  I had a tub of instant custard powder left over from baking Custard Cream Cookies so I made custard according to their instructions and let it cool before making the batter. You can use a tin of prepared custard if you like.

Prepare a 6 inch round, loose bottom cake tin by buttering the sides and bottom and placing a circle of baking paper on the bottom of the tin.

Ingredients for the cake batter:

125 butter or baking margarine at room temperature
75 grams prepared custard at room temperature
125 grams self-rising flour*
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125 grams caster sugar

Whisk together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time, whisk until they are well combined.  Stir in the custard, baking powder, and vanilla extract.
Add the flour and gently stir until every thing is combined. 

Spoon one third of the batter into the bottom of the prepared cake tin.  Place one half of the roasted rhubarb over the batter.  Spoon over another third of the batter and top with the remaining rhubarb.  Spoon over the final third of the cake batter making sure to spread it to cover the rhubarb.  Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the top of the cake, if you like.  

Place the filled cake tin on a baking sheet and place it in the oven  Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  If you think the cake is getting too brown, cover it with a bit of baking foil.  

Leave the cake in the tin to cool a bit before removing.  Have a slice of warm cake if you can't resist...with or without extra custard on the side.

*I substituted two tablespoons of custard powder for part of the self-rising flour. I think it added extra flavour and make the sponge extra light.  

If you would like to bake a bigger Rhubarb and Custard Cake CLICK HERE to see the original recipe for 23 cm cake.

Friday, 15 May 2015

2015 Tulip Review

I've just deadheaded the last of my tulips for this spring.  It has to be said, 2015 was a very good year.  Here's a look back at the star performers.  

Despite my best efforts, I managed to loose the label for these bright tulips.  I'd be grateful for any suggestions as to what they might be. 

These were called Apricot Foxx.  

The pale tulip in the background was Apricot Beauty.

This is Apricot Beauty in bud. 

La Belle Epoque was the best in show.  It started with a cup shaped flower and matured into a delicate pink peony-like blossom

It was stunningly beautiful right to the very end. 

Sad as it is to see the tulips leave the garden, the roses are showing lots of tight little buds.  We won't have to wait much longer to be back in bloom. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday

It was supposed to be one of those 'naked' cakes.  I got carried away.

It ended up a Nearly Naked Cake. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Thatched Roofs and Straw Animals

One of the most wonderful things about living in Great Britain are the elaborate thatched roofs on many of the old houses.  The roofs alone are a work of art, with their fancy ridge lines and thick eyebrows over the windows.  

But sometimes, if you look closely you will find there even fancier details to be seen.  

Look up to the very top of the roof and you might find mad March Hares ...

Or cats stretching themselves after a long nap in the sun. 

How did that dog get up there? 

These straw sculptures are called 'finials'.  I never pass a thatched building without looking for a finial.  If you'd like to see more, CLICK HERE to visit The Straw Store.  And don't forget, the next time you see a thatched roof, look for the finial! 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Snickerdoodle Cakes and Elections

Today is Election Day here in Britain.  They say it is the closest race in living memory.  I don't know whose memory they are using, but it's a sure thing that no political party will win a majority.  Being a political animal, I find this all very interesting.  It's going to be a long time before the results start to come in so we'd better organise some provisions... by provisions I mean CAKE!

I decided to make Snickerdoodle Cakes*.  Just like Snickerdoodle Cookies these little cakes are covered in cinnamon and sugar.  They will be great with afternoon tea or with that late night-early morning coffee needed to see us through the small hours of ballot counting.   Here's the recipe.

Cake batter:
1 and 2/3 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup butter or baking margarine - melted
1 egg
1/4 cup plain yogurt 
3/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl stir together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 rounded teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.  Line muffin tin with 12 paper cupcake liners.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugar.  No need for the electric mixer, I used a wire whisk.  Add the egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.

Add the dry ingredient mixture a little at a time, stirring until everything is just combined. 

Place approximately 2 tablespoons of cake batter into each cupcake liner. Sprinkle over 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar.  Top with another tablespoon of cake batter.  The cupcake liners should be about 3/4 full.   Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar over the top of the cakes.  

Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the tin for a few minutes, then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.  

Right, it's time for me to go to the polling station and cast my vote!  

*This recipe was adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction.  Click HERE for the original recipe.

ELECTION RESULTS: Against all the odds, the Conservative party won an overall majority.  As I type this, David Cameron is having an audience with the Queen.