Perfect drying weather!

We have been enjoying some terrific weather down here in Devon, and I think most of the rest of the country has too. It has been what my Mother would have called ‘perfect drying weather’ – warm and sunny but with just enough breeze to move the washing about on the line.

There are lots of positives to working from home (although quite a few minuses too!) and being able to hang washing out – and being around to take it in if it starts raining – is most definitely a positive. I always find it an immensely uplifting chore, in fact hardly a chore at all. The smell of fresh line-dried bed linen is definitely high on my list of ‘top smells’! It is also, of course, a very great deal better than drying them in a cash-guzzling tumble drier. If it does start to rain, don’t despair, it is claimed that rainwater acts as a fabric conditioner.

I was thinking about washing lines the other weekend (yes, I know, I am a sad person…) when I was at a lovely local garden event. Alongside plant stalls and garden ornaments were lots of stalls selling upcycled, recycled and traditional products, including one that was selling the old-fashioned ‘wooden dolly’ clothes pegs. Instant nostalgia trip for me! I can remember my Mother using these pegs and having a dolly made from one of them – such a simple toy, a little headscarf, painted face and bit of cloth for a dress wrapped around the peg. I’m not sure granddaughter Grace would thank me for one of them, but hey, we enjoyed our simple pleasures back then!

Another stall at the event was run by a young lady who had very cleverly recycled some old metal garden chairs into unusual planters. She had planted Sempervivum, or house leeks, within the decorative metalwork. Sempervivums are survivors by nature and originate in mountainous and arid regions of southern Europe and North. Their succulent leaves arranged in rosettes enable them to survive for long periods without water as they store it in their thick leathery leaves. This makes them useful plants for containers that get only occasional water, to fill crevices in the rock garden and to create imaginative arrangements with very little soil. Perfect for this unusual and very pretty planting idea – very clever I thought!

What a clever and attractive idea!

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Tina’s Travels – a piece of cake!

Warning – this article could seriously damage your waistline!

I am always fascinated by the crafts, cultures and cooking of other countries and now that Tina Dorr has moved to France we have a perfect ‘on the spot’ reporter to share some local specialities with us. Today Tina has written a piece about cakes… cakes yum, who can resist? Well, I do try to but these look amazing!

Galette Des Rois

“When you think of France, many things come to mind, Paris, French wines, cheeses, and of course patisseries. The patisseries are wonderful places to visit and to just stare at all the stunning creations on show –  they truly are amazing.

I would like to share just a few of the magnificent cakes with you and will start with Galette Des Rois – or King Cake. This is a huge thing in January when you will find them everywhere, from boulangeries to supermarkets. Here in the North of France, they are made with puff pastry and filled with almond paste or apple. Each cake has a paper crown and inside is a ‘charm’ that someone will find in his or her slice.

Opera Cake

One of my favourites is Opera Cake. You can buy this as a large cake to share, or by the slice in most patisseries. This is made from layers of coffee-soaked almond sponge, coffee buttercream, ganache and a chocolate glaze. It all sounds very rich, and it is, but it’s great to share.

If you have a really sweet tooth then you would love a Religieuse, which means nun and it is made to look like one. There are two choux pastries, one larger than the other, filled with crème patissiere, usually coffee or chocolate flavour. The smaller one is put on top of the larger, covered in ganache and joined with buttercream. It really is very sweet.

Religieuse – two little nuns!

The Paris–Brest Cake is named after a cycle race. This is a layered French cake in the shape of a wheel, made from a ring of choux dough and filled with hazelnut and praline cream, then topped with sliced almonds – delicious.

Other popular little cakes you will find everywhere in France are the Madeleines, a small light cake in a shell shape, and the Macarons, very sweet meringue-based cakes made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder and lovely pastel shades of food colouring. If you are in the Bordeaux region (or most places nowadays) you will find Canelés, a hard caramel-covered cake with custard inside and flavoured with rum and vanilla. Produced in numerous sizes, they can be eaten for breakfast, for snacks, and as a dessert. Canelés can be paired with red wine and all sorts of other many other drinks.

There are so many beautiful cakes and desserts in France, I could go on forever! If you visit France, try and make time to call into any little café or patisserie and try some of these for yourself.

Left to right: Canelés, Macarons, baking Madeleines and the wheel-shaped Paris-Brest Cake.

 

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The merry merry month of May!

Forgive me if I am repeating myself… but I LOVE May! It is the month when spring reaches its zenith and summer just starts to sneak in with (hopefully!) some extra warmth…

This year has been very odd with a horribly cold and wet early spring meaning the poor trees and plants seem to have gone into overdrive to get established and then produce their blossom over a very short period of time in an attempt to catch up. Not only does this show the adaptability of Mother Nature, it has also resulted in some spectacular amounts of blossom. As the saintly Monty Don said on Gardener’s World last week, he has never seen so much blossom in his lifetime – and he is in his early 60s. Amazing – the blossom I mean, not his age!

Wisterias are looking as if they will swamp entire buildings and the scent is just amazing! Fruit trees burst into a great froth of blooms – and then seemed over in a flash. All sorts of wildflowers have been flowering together, resulting in some gorgeous colour mixes and amazing vistas. Bluebells, while prolific this year, have run into the emergence of the ferns. The new bright green ferns shooting up among them are diluting their magnificent purple/blue colour somewhat. Different – but no less stunning.

Not knowing much about it, I can only assume the effect on insects and wildlife will be equally ‘rearranged’ by this topsy-turvy weather. I’ve heard more cuckoos this year than I have before and there seem to be a great many swallows about… which I guess must mean more insects thanks to the masses of blossom! And so it goes around.

As long as mankind doesn’t interfere too much with its chemicals and denuding of the countryside, we can rely on Mother Nature to sort it all out for herself. If only other problems in the world could be managed in the same way

PS. Just had to add that I thought the flowers at the royal wedding were absolutely stunning! The entrance to St George’s Chapel was fantastic! What did you think?

 

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Hail king cauliflower!

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that seem to be back in vogue all of a sudden due, in part, to some bad publicity. It recently hit the headlines when a supermarket received criticism for selling ‘cauliflower steaks’ (thick slices to you and me!) for more than the cost of buying a whole cauliflower! A case of ‘clever’ marketing – and the need for the consumer to shop sensibly, if ever there was one.

In these days of trying to eat more healthily and to consume less meat, the cauliflower has got quite a lot to offer. In my youth, I was not a fan. It was usually served soggy and grey having been overcooked or slathered in a tasteless cheese sauce. It’s only recently that the dear old cauli has been recognised as having a lot more potential.

I think its texture has much to do with its resurgence – it is substantial and can stand up to pickling, pan frying, roasting and even barbecuing. You can marinade it whole and roast it for a rather impressive looking vegetarian meal, or go completely the other way and break up the florets into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles couscous to create cauliflower ‘rice’. This is a really clever option as it creates a low calorie, healthy, low-carb meal or side dish and has only about a quarter of the carbohydrates of traditional rice.

While cauliflower has a distinctive taste, it also takes up other flavours well. I particularly like it in a curry as the florets stay firm and it tastes great with curry spices. The idea of steaks is a clever one – cutting big slabs of cauliflower and then cooking them in oil and herbs creates a lovely main course. Cauliflower cheese, when made properly – pre-cooked cauli mixed into a rich cheese sauce and then sprinkled with extra cheese and browned under the grill – is a super comfort food.

Cauliflowers are available pretty much all year round, which makes it extra useful when so many other veg have given up for the winter. Predictably, supermarkets demand their cauliflowers white and pristine but look out for cheaper creamier coloured ones from a greengrocer or farmers’ market. As long as they are clean and firm, they are perfectly fine. Of course, cauliflowers don’t only come in white… there are purple and orange varieties and the stunning looking Romanesco with its lime green pointy florets that look like some clever architectural design. It’s not strictly a cauliflower but is closely related.

Sadly, growing them yourself is not that easy and you need to be a pretty dedicated veg grower to succeed. They need plenty of space, a rich soil and then a cage or netting to try and keep cabbage white butterflies and greedy pigeons away! It’s one of those veg, like sweet corn and asparagus, that I find it easier to just buy when I fancy them. But if you want to have a go at growing them, you’ve still got a few weeks to get them planted. You’ll find lots of advice on how to grow them online, as ever the RHS website has it covered.

 

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Final fans

I know I have been going on about fans for a couple of blogs now, but it’s really difficult when you are surrounded by dozens and dozens of mind-blowingly gorgeous samples not to be super enthusiastic!

So here’s one last peek at some of the projects in the new Joanna Sheen boxed set which will feature on my Create and Craft shows on Thursday 17thand Friday 18th May – and obviously on our website here while stocks last.

What do you think of that cute little cake box? I don’t have any weddings in the family for a while but I thought Grace might enjoy cooking a cake with Granny and then taking a piece home in a specially made Grace themed box. I have backing papers with alphabets on and we can mix learning letters and spelling her name using die-cuts, with cooking and eating cake – sounds fun to me!

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