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Landmarks on journeys – are we there yet?

 

Whether consciously or not, I think we all have a certain view, or signpost, or possibly even scent that tells us that our journey home is almost complete. It is a rather lovely and comforting sensation and one that brings a sigh of contentment. Of course, it doesn’t have to be reaching home – it could be arriving at a favourite holiday destination or a close friend’s house. Landmarks on journeys lodge in our brains and can bring back waves of nostalgia years later when we come across one by chance.

As a child, the vaguest scent of the sea (often imagined!) would start me wheedling “Are we there yet?” from the backseat of the car. One friend, who had to commute up and down to London from Devon three times a week told me he always gave a cheer when he drove past the ‘Devon’ county boundary sign on the M5.

Cookworthy Knapp – the ‘coming home’ trees. Photo copyright: ALAMY

My partner in crime writing, Julia, was amazed to see a photo on the BBC website this week of a much-loved copse of beech that she always says ‘Hello’ to as she goes on holiday to Cornwall and crosses over the Devon/Cornwall

border. Apparently, it is an incredibly popular landmark with lots of people! The beech trees, which stand on a hill south of the A30, tell weary Cornwall-bound travellers that their journey is nearly over.

Now, says the BBC, people have been taking to social media to share their love for the Cookworthy Knapp trees, which were planted around 1900 and have become known as the ‘coming home trees’.

I thought this was rather lovely and set me thinking about what are my ‘coming home landmarks’. I have two – the lovely sweeping view of the Teign estuary as we drive over the road bridge on the last 10 miles of our journey home… and the dear little fingerpost on the Torquay Road that says, very small, ‘Stokeinteignhead’!

And so… I’d like to hear from you – what are your ‘coming home’ landmarks? Are they distinctive hills, or trees, or signs, or something more quirky? Let’s hear it! Smiles, Joanna.

The Teign estuary… I’m almost home! And, just to be sure, the little fingerpost confirms it’s only half a mile.

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Maple and pecan loaf

So many of you popped into my blog to read about the bread machine that I thought you might be interested in a follow-up story about a maple and pecan loaf… It now seems that both Richard and little Grace are fascinated by the machine and we are making bread multiple times a week. While the house is full of wonderful fresh bread smells, it is tough on me as I don’t really allow myself a lot of bread on my diet!

The latest recipe that has had huge acclaim throughout the family is Richard’s maple and pecan bread… it’s just wonderful, cuts beautifully and lasts several days. We progress from newly made and served fresh, to several days old and toasted. It’s delicious whichever way you try it.

These are the ingredients but I think it may need tweaking to suit your particular bread machine if you have one – if not I recommend trying a handmade loaf – it’s just yummy!

Ingrdients

  • ¾ teaspoon dried yeast
  • 200g (7oz) strong wholemeal
  • 200g (7oz) strong white bread flour
  • ½ oz or 15g cubed butter
  • 1 teaspoon of table salt
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 oz chopped pecan nuts – I am sure could use others
  • 280ml of water

As you can see, it turns out beautifully!

 

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Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!

 

 

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Eurovision – love it or hate it!

Copyright: https://eurovision.tv/story/ukraine-is-ready-to-celebrate-diversity-in-2017

There will be much excitement in our household this Saturday as it is Eurovision party night – woo-hoo! Rather like Marmite, Eurovision does tend to divide people into ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps. I love it!

Yes, most of the music is awful and the costumes bizarre but it is so wonderfully naff and eccentric, I think it is a joy. Terry Wogan was, of course, the master of Eurovision but I have to say that Graham Norton makes a very good job of it too. Must be something about the Irish sense of humour.

The days of other countries voting for the UK seem to be long gone, but the spectacle of it all is still worth watching, not least because so many countries take it so very, very seriously. We Brits, with our ironic sense of humour, are able to take our ‘nul points’ with good grace. However, this year’s UK entrant, Lucie Jones is, apparently ‘one of the favourites’… we shall see!

This year is the 62nd edition (wow!) and it is being held in Kiev in the Ukraine. One of the great things about the show is seeing all the participants backstage laughing and having a wonderful time together with no sign of any divisions or political argument, which has to be a good thing, surely?

And so, we will be getting together with family and any friends potty enough to join us, and cheering and booing and doing our own scoring of the 42 countries taking part… if we can stay awake that long! I have such fond memories of previous Eurovision parties organised by my wonderful Mother. One year, we all dressed up as our designated country (I’m sure someone came as the Eiffel Tower!) while Granny always concentrated on wearing the colours of the French or Italian flags. Ah, such happy memories…

Why not host your own Eurovision party? It’s a great opportunity for silly hats and themed food! Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pizza! Perfect Eurovision fare!

    In tribute to France – garlic bread

  2. For Italy – pizza
  3. German sausage
  4. Some Danish bacon
  5. A few Belgian chocolates to round everything off!

But let’s remember one very important thing – if it wasn’t for this crazy annual music fest, we might never have discovered Abba!! Need I say more?

Five fun Eurovision facts:

  1. Fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since it started in 1956. Of these, 25 have won the contest.
  2. The “Euro” in “Eurovision” has no direct connection with the European Union! Several countries outside the boundaries of Europe have competed: Israel, Cyprus and Armenia, in Western Asia, Morocco, in North Africa and Australia making a debut in the 2015 contest! How did that happen?
  3. Ireland has won a record 7 times, Luxembourg, while France and the United Kingdom have won 5 times. Sweden and the Netherlands won 4 times.
  4. Poor old Norway has ended last 9 times! They came last in 1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997 and 2001.
  5. In 1981 the UK act Bucks Fizz stunned viewers with their Velcro rip-away skirts and within 48 hours, Velcro had sold out across the country. Fabulous!
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Homemade bread

I have been making my own soup for years and we have long been thinking we might try making homemade bread to go with the soup – instant homemade lunches!

However this good idea was shelved along with so many others we have, as we got busier and busier. Then whilst at my sister’s house last week we got up one morning to the most amazing smell of bread .. I wondered if she had one of those part-baked loaves in the oven or some frozen croissants, but this really was a very strong scent… enough to raise Richard into an enthusiastic early breakfast!

Kate (my sister) assured us it was real home made bread, courtesy of her bread making machine and it was sitting waiting for us to road test the latest loaf. Cutting a long and delicious story short, it was wonderful and Richard especially, was madly keen as he loves bread and cheese or bread and soup even more than I do.

So courtesy of Amazon we pressed a button and this machine arrived a day or so later. Richard has now taken full control and it is obviously going to be a man thing, a bit like the BBQ. However you will hear no complaints from me – it’s lovely to share the cooking.

We have tried three different recipes this week: a French bread (delicious but a different shape to usual French bread obviously!), a standard white and a 50/50% wholemeal and white and I can honestly say that every crumb has been consumed and little Grace, our granddaughter, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the ‘Grandpa’ bread she ate for lunch today.

We chose the Panasonic SD-2511 as that’s what my sister had – seemed easier than choosing a different one and it not being as good. Then all you really need to keep in the cupboard is strong flour, water, salt, dried yeast and a touch of butter. There are plenty of other things you can add but the basics have worked well so far.

I have bought several books on machine bread making and I think we will be trying loaves with delicious little extras like olives or pecan nuts and maple syrup soon. But for now, I think it is unlikely we will bother to buy much regular bread from the supermarket as we just love having it all set on a timer and having that smell of baking bread first thing in the morning.

 

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