Saturday, 30 April 2016

Touring Exeter Cathedral

In 1050 the seat of the bishop of Devon and Cornwall was transferred from the small town of Crediton to the city of Exeter due to the fear of sea raids.  This is how our tour guide begins telling us the history of the Exeter Cathedral. 

The original Cathedral was built in the Norman style by the nephew of William the Conqueror.  By 1258 the Norman style was considered old fashioned and the Cathedral at Salisbury inspired a 'remodeling' project to add Decorated Gothic features to Exeter's Cathedral.  Fortunately, not all of the Norman features were lost in the remodelling project.  

Our tour today featured the sturdy Norman towers.  Climbing stair after stair of narrow, spiral staircases, we finally reached the roof space to see the original 14th century beams.  Squeezing under low beams and out tiny Normal windows we finally arrive at the apex and on to the roof.

The sunshine was dazzling as we looked down onto the ancient lead roof.

The view over the city was beautiful.  We could see for miles.  Lovely as the view was, the wind was cold and blustery so we were happy to scramble back down the narrow stone stairs and into the warmth of the Cathedral. 

Our tour guide explained the architectural features like the ceiling vaulting and bosses.

We examined the tombs and effigies of the great and good.  I was particularly interested in the gown of this Elizabethan lady.

But to be honest, it is the simplest things that are the most endearing, like this ancient cat flap cut into the door for the first Cathedral cat.  (see the circular hole at the bottom of the door)

Most cathedrals have at least one cat. Historically they were kept to control the rat and mouse population but the cats have always been more than just 'mousers'.   

This carving is in memory of One Eyed Tom, the Cathedral cat. Tom lost his eye in an unfortunate encounter with an owl.  They were both in pursuit of the same rat.  It seems being partially sighted didn't keep Tom from performing his duties earning the affection and gratitude of clergy and parishioners alike. 

The Cathedral is filled with fascinating stories and sculptures all too numerous to mention here.   CLICK HERE to learn more about how you can take a tour of Exeter Cathedral and experience this magnificent medieval masterpiece.  

Friday, 29 April 2016

Toby's Garden Festival 2016

I have always wanted to go to the Chelsea Flower Show but have yet to manage it.  Fortunately, we have a rather special local gardening event, Toby's Garden Festival!  The venue is the glorious grounds of Powderham Castle, the 600 year old home of the Earl of Devon.

Held in the grounds of the castle, this is one of the most beautiful venues you can imagine.  Just walking through the gates conjures up images of knights on horseback. 

The market stalls set up in the courtyard are like a scene from a medieval fair...well, except for all the mobile phones, digital cameras, and modern wheelie trolleys. 

Enough of all that romantic stuff, lets get down to the gardening bit.  There are vendors selling every kind of plant imaginable from cottage garden plants to alpines.

If you love Heurcheras as much as I do, 'Heucheraholics' will surely have a plant just for you.

Perhaps something succulent is more your thing.  

If your borders are full to bursting, you can always squeeze in a slender plant stake.  These rusty flowers were fabulous.

There were lots of charming ornaments to add a bit of art to your garden from life size driftwood horses to these delicately carved doves.

When you've shopped 'till you are about to drop, you can go to the Speaker's Marquee where famous gardening folk like Christine Walkden will
 tell you how to 'Make the Most of Your Garden'.  

Then it's time for a spot of tea and a slice of cake, or maybe something a bit more substantial from the many fabulous food stalls.  Be sure to take a minute and just enjoy the view!

Toby's Garden Festival continues tomorrow from 10 am to 5 pm.  Do pop in for a visit if you can.  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Mini-Yorkshire Puddings

Here in Great Britain, Sundays are traditionally roast dinner days.  When it comes to roast dinners, Andy is as English as you can get.  He LOVES them. They say the French nicknamed the British 'Les Rosbifs' because they are so obsessed with roast beef dinners.  The traditional menu includes a beef roast, crispy roasted potatoes, Yorkshire Puddings, gravy and roasted veg. 

 I have to admit I find roasting beef a bit daunting but they say the more you do it the easier it gets so I put on my brave face and my apron and started by making Mini Yorkshire Puddings.  

You may think it a bit strange starting the with the Yorkies but it's only logical. Oven space is limited and with all that meat and veg roasting it's easier to make the Yorkshire Puddings first then warm them up just before serving.  This recipe is perfect for a small family like ours.  It makes six little puddings, just the right shape for holding a tiny lake of gravy.  Here is how to do it:


70 grams plain flour
2 eggs
100 ml milk
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil - I use canola oil 

You will also need a six hole muffin tin

Start by turning the oven up to 220C/ 425F.  Pour a little oil into the bottom of each muffin cup.  Place the muffin tin into the oven to get the oil REALLY hot.

In a lipped mixing bowl or large jug, mix the flour, salt and pepper together. Add the eggs and a little of the milk and whisk together to make a smooth batter. Pour in the rest of the milk and beat until there are no lumps. 

Take the hot muffin tin out of the oven and carefully pour the batter into the hot oil filling the cups half full.  You should hear a sizzle as the batter hits the hot oil.  

Return the muffin tin to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.  DO NOT open the oven door to peek!  Not even a little... I mean it!  After 20 minutes, the Yorkshire Puddings should be puffed up and golden brown. 

Remove the Yorkshire Puddings from the muffin tin and place them on a wire rack until you are almost ready to serve dinner.  To warm them up, place the puddings  on a baking sheet and reheat them in the oven for five minutes or until they are piping hot.  Serve with your roast, all the trimmings and a bucket of gravy.  

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Pig and Pallet - Topsham

On Tuesday Andy and I celebrated 14 years of our trans-Atlantic union, more commonly known as our wedding anniversary.  Now Tuesday was a work day so there wasn't any time for us to have a romantic, candle lit dinner.  To be honest, we much prefer lunch to dinner anyway.  We needed something special and close to Andy's home office. We found it tucked behind the Topsham yacht yard... THE PIG AND PALLET!

Now some folks prefer champagne and candlelight for their romantic moments but I come from Missouri, home of some of the best BBQ in the world.  (Gates BBQ  and KC Masterpiece to name two of the most famous)  So a good pulled pork sandwich is the way to my heart.  Andy had a lovely bit of pastrami.  

I knew we were on to a winner when I saw the smoker standing proudly in the front of the shop. Yes, that is a yacht behind the smoker.  The Pig and Pallet is located right on the Exe estuary. 

The whole interior is made from pallets and other upcycled items, relaxed and comfortable in a rustic way.

The staff is friendly and helpful and willing to help you choose the perfect drink to accompany your meal.... like this lovely local cider.

The dress code is casual,  Bowler hats are not mandatory. 

I am sure we will be Pig and Pallet regulars.  The food was delicious and the staff were lovely. 

So if you are in the Topsham area, pop into the Pig and Pallet.  As they say, come in and say Oink!  

Friday, 15 April 2016

Cheddar Cheese Scones

It is a rare occasion when Andy asks me to bake something in particular.  I generally plan the menus and choose what I want to bake for a treat, but today he asked me to make some cheese scones.  I like it when he tells me what he'd like me to make and I hopped to it... double time! 

I think cheese scones are a 'guy' thing.  I don't know a man who doesn't like cheese scones.... well, I don't think I do.  Anyway, here's the recipe:

Strong Cheddar Cheese Scones

Begin by heating the oven to 200C/400F.  Line a baking tray with a piece of baking paper and set it to one side while you make the scone dough


225 grams self raising flour
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon baking powder
55 grams of butter - cut into cubes
100 grams of grated strong cheddar cheese
90 ml milk (more or less) + a little more to brush on the scone tops
grated cheddar cheese for the scone tops 

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and cayenne pepper together in a big mixing bowl.  Add the butter and rub it into the flour until you have what looks like bread crumbs.  I like to use a pastry cutter for this step but fingers work just fine, too. 

Add 100 grams of grated cheese to the bowl and stir to distribute the cheese evenly.   Pour in about 80 - 90 ml of milk and gently stir with a spoon.  If the dough seems dry, add a tiny bit more milk.  You want a dough that is soft but firm.  Use your hands to bring the dough together and gently knead it for just a moment.  DO NOT overwork the dough or your scones will be tough.

Lightly flour your work surface and pat the dough into a rough circle that is about 1 inch thick.  Cut the dough into six triangles and place them on the prepared baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk, sprinkle over some grated cheese, and pop the tray into the oven.  

Bake the scones for approximately 15 - 20 minutes or until they are tall, golden brown, and covered in bubbly, melted cheese.  

Now, I like my cheese scone hot out of the oven but normal people will leave them to cool a bit. Traditionally, these are for afternoon tea but they are good with soup or salad or just as a snack whenever you need a cheesy treat.  

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Sensational Sunsets

The sensational sunsets over the Exe estuary have been a magnet for artists for nearly 200 years.  

J. W. Turner was one of the most famous painters enchanted by our local scenery. 

Every evening we have this view from our back garden. 

Every evening the sky is painted with different hues. 

Of course some sunsets are more dramatic than others but when they are good they are spectacular! 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Oh Hail!

Here in Devon we often have all four seasons in one day but this was an exceptionally weird bit of weather. 

In the short span of five or ten minutes we had about an inch and a half of hail pelt down on us.

It seems most people are obsessed with weather and we are no exception.

We watched with intense fascination, leaned out the open windows to catch the hail stones in our hands, constantly commenting on how we'd never seen anything like it.  I suspect we have but that is the sort of thing one says about the weather. 

The moment it stopped I was out with the camera.  Even then you could see it melting away almost as quickly as it had accumulated.  It reminded me of something my Dad always said, everyone talks about the weather but no one can do anything about it.  Oh hail!  

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Gardening Without a Greenhouse

This is the time of year when pots of seedlings fill every window sill in the house.  It feels as if a jungle is gradually taking over the place. In a perfect world I'd have a greenhouse....needless to say, this is not a perfect world.  But I do have an idea that will help to get the young plants off the window sills and out into the garden. Here it is:

I know, I know... it isn't a greenhouse.  It's a plastic storage bin and it works pretty well as a tiny, substitute greenhouse.  

Just pop the plants that need hardening off into the bin.  Leave the lid off during the day so they get a bit of sun and some air circulation. 

In the evening,  snap on the lid to keep the plants safe from slugs and snails.  If there is a chance of frost, the whole bin goes into the garage to provide just a little extra protection. Best of all, you can stack several bins on top of one another to make multi-story greenhouses.   Soon these plants will be in the borders and those little seedlings will move into the greenhouse bins and I can have my house back! 

Monday, 4 April 2016

Spicy Pulled Pork

Ninety-nine per cent of the time I am a vegetarian but when I fall off the turnip truck I do it in a BIG way.  Not much tempts me to eat meat...except BBQ pulled pork.

If I am really honest, it isn't the pork that gets to me.  It is the barbecue sauce. I can't help it.  It is in my genes.  I come from the Mid-West where the world's very best BBQ can be found.  Kansas City, near my old home town, is famous for it's BBQ joints.  KC Masterpiece is my all time favourite BBQ sauce, but I really like Sweet Baby Ray's almost as much.

Fortunately, our local supermarket sells Sweet Baby Ray's so I can keep a shelf-full on hand. (I am not joking, we have multiple bottles in the cupboard) Now you can put BBQ sauce on your veggie burger and it will be delicious, but if you really want the total pulled pork experience here is an easy recipe you can make in the oven. 


1 pork shoulder roast

1/4 cup soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1-2 large onions - thickly sliced, enough to cover the bottom of your pot

1 bottle BBQ sauce

Place the sugar and all the spices into a large freezer bag. Shake it to mix all the seasoning together.  Place the pork into the freezer bag and tie it shut.  Massage the spices into the pork and place it into the refrigerator for several hours - I leave ours in the fridge overnight. 

When you are ready to cook the pork, arrange the onion slices into a thick bed on the bottom of a large covered pot.  Place the pork on top of the onions.  Add all the marinade juices and one cup of water.  

Place the pot into the oven and slowly roast the meat at 300F/150C.  Depending on the size of the pork roast, this could take anywhere from 3 hours to 7 hours. I find the pork is usually ready in about 3 hours.  Begin testing the meat at about 2 hours 45 minutes.  You know it is ready when it begins to fall apart when stuck with a fork. 

Remove the pork from the pot and use two forked to gently pull the meat into shreds.  This is the 'pulled' part.   

Serve on soft baps or brioche rolls with lots of BBQ sauce and a side order of slaw.  One more thing, you are probably going to need paper napkins for this one.  LOTS of paper napkins if you use as much BBQ sauce as I do.