The thing that struck me more than anything during our week in Cornwall was the wildflowers. Anyone who has holidayed in Cornwall will know all about the narrow windy roads with high verges. I have often holidayed in this area in July or August and the verges have been grassy with a few flowers. However, maybe because we were away much earlier than usual and also possibly because of the late Spring, the verges were positively groaning with wild flowers.
I have no photographs to demonstrate this as I was driving but the photograph above was taken by the car park outside Portscatho and this gives you a glimpse of what the verges were like. We say bluebells, campion, foxgloves, various ferns, cow parsley, another unknown umbellifer which had angelica overtones, nettles and goodness knows what else. There has been quite a bit in the news recently about local councils cutting verges destroying habitats in particular Plantlife has criticised councils for cutting verges too often. We did see some verge cutting in Cornwall but this was around junctions in the towns; the countryside verges seemed very much left to their own devices.
Even my sons commented on the meadows on the headland above Porthcurnick Beach, managed by the National Trust. I do hope that other councils will take note of the work, or lack of it, carried out by the Cornwall councils. After all in simple economic terms if they reduced the amount of verge cutting they would save signficant amounts of funds.
Oh and in case you are wondering about Portscatho and why we had visited it, the photograph above demonstrates what a charming fishing village it is. Also I had read somewhere on the internet about The Hidden Hut at Porthcurnick Beach. Apparently it was on a recent television programme about Cornwall and had good reviews. The Hut is located about a 10 minute walk from the car park and is a complete gem.
It has a simple lunchtime menu of focaccia rolls, cooked fresh on site, with various fillings or steak pasties. They also did some hot dishes such as chowders but we opted for pasties and I have to say it was the best pasty I had all week. They also do evening meals on special nights and we spotted large paella pans and a BBQ. It was such a clever and simple concept and delivered incredibly well. Even on a midweek lunchtime outside of the school holidays it was busy and I am sure that they will continue to go from strength to strength.
There can’t be much better than sitting eating a Cornish pasty overlooking the sea on a beautiful sunny day and I think it will be one of the lasting memories of my holiday.
Having watched the Great British Bake Off for a few years I decided it was about time I learnt to make bread. I have tried in the past and produced the odd brick, even the pre-mixed packets haven’t really worked for me and I don’t have space for a bread maker.
My sons took my comments on board and for Christmas bought me Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake along with a number of Mary Berry cake books.
With no more excuses and time on my hands yesterday I set to and had another go following the basic white tin bread recipe. I like this book as it explains as much as is possible how to knead, what you are looking for and what to expect it to look like. I learnt that you should keep salt and yeast separate in the bowl or they cancel each other. The book has masses of recipes for all sorts of baking and I intend to work my way through it slowly by surely. The style is friendly, chatty and very informative.
As for my first attempt – the result is an OK loaf of bread. It smells good, tastes like bread although it is a little dense in texture. Not a bad start and it is disappearing fast always a good sign.
The end of another month and another parcel from a Foodie Penpal.
This month I was assigned Anna and Jamie at Manchester Foodies and I am pleased to see they enjoyed their parcel which had a loose Italian theme.
My foodie penpal was Dana at A Bite of a Blogspot. Dana sent me an email warning that she had dispatched the parcel and it was time sensitive so my anticipation was high when I returned from my trip to Plymouth. The package contained a very pretty ribbon bedecked box. What was inside – no clues from the outside.
The empty cake wrappers were a clue and Dana’s note told me that she had treated me to her favourite macaroons from Yauatcha in London. She had provided one of a variety of flavours and said that despite me telling her I was on a diet, they were only small and so didn’t count – a woman after my own heart.
An interesting selection of flavours (and colours): Pumpkin gingerbread, jasmine tea, jaffa yuza (an asian citrus fruit), rum raisin, parma violet, mint chocolate and lavender honey.
Sadly a few of the macaroons had got a little squished in transit but they were still very tasty. I have to admit not liking the Mint Chocolate one at all. I thought it was going to taste like an Aero bar all peppermint and chocolate loveliness but the mint but more like the flavour you get from the mint you put with your new potatoes. However, the Jaffa flavoured one was gorgeous but I am a real fan of Jaffa. It was quite entertaining to try to match the macaroons to the flavours.
If you are interested in joining the Foodie Penpals contact Carol over at Saltnrock
I am quite chuffed with myself at how the cake I have made for my parent’s 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary has turned out. I am no cake decorator and have had many a run in with a piping bag which I have lost. In the past I did some fab cakes for the boys birthdays but they were always making shapes etc out of fondant icing – I can’t do dainty or elegant.
Anyway, here it is. The cake itself is the standard rich fruit cake I make every year for Christmas which never fails. Then my amazingly unskilled decoration is some fondant icing and a few bought bits and pieces arranged kind of artistically.
When I told Mum I had made her a cake for their ‘do’ Saturday she said she didn’t want anything formal or smart and would be quite happy with my normal snow scene! So hopefully she will be quiet pleased with this effort. I know I am.
(Of course now looking at the photograph I can see a dent in the side which I will have to try to tweak!!)
I have a real weakness for a parcel, I adore receiving them. In fact the actual receiving of the parcel is often more exciting than the contents which is why I love internet shopping. I also like eating, well who doesn’t, although I am now on a diet but more of that later. So when I came across Foodie Penpals via @Carllegge on twitter I was curious. I umm’d and arh’d for a few weeks, did some snooping on blogs to see how it worked and what sort of thing people sent then this month I signed up.
The premise comes from the US and they now have around 1000 Foodie Penpals. I don’t know how long it has been going in the UK and Europe but there are around 100 signed up now. At the start of each month you are emailed the email address of your penpal to whom you are to send a parcel during that month. You email your penpal to enquire about preferences, dislikes etc etc. There is a £10 limit to spend on the contents of the box and as I discovered you have to really think clever if you don’t want to pay as much again for the postage. I originally had ideas of sending chutneys etc to my penpal but am very glad I re-thought it. My foodie penpal for August was Lucy over at OffallyGood and you can read what she thought of my first attempt of a parcel here.
Of course this is not a one way activity, as you are busily scouring the shops for good ideas someone somewhere else is doing the same for your parcel. My parcel this month came from Elaine and Simon at Luv4Fashion – you see it isn’t all foodie bloggers who participate. It turned out that this was their first parcel as well. I told them I was trying to follow a GI diet lots of wholemeal etc, my dislikes and favourites etc. I then joined weightwatchers – opps.
Anyway my parcel arrived very promptly. I had had a tweet from Elaine when she posted it the parcel so I was anticipating its arrival but the whole mystery of what might or might not be inside was rather thrilling. I hoped for some baked goodies as I have noticed that this seems to be a bit of a theme in the posts I had read. Elaine didn’t let me down and had included some raisin cookies. My youngest son and I soon demolished these, I went for a few extra walks to work off the calories, and my son said they were so good I should get the recipe from Simon and Elaine. Also enclosed were some chocolate macaroons which we haven’t opened yet as we were waiting for my other son to return from his holiday plus I need to factor them into the diet!
There was a huge bag of good risotto rice which is quite exciting since I always use the supermarket’s own brand. I had risotto this evening and I have nearly used up the boring stuff and can’t wait to try the posher version. Simon and Elaine also included a recipe for their favourite risotto, including a written letter, recipe etc is one of the requirements of being a Foodie Penpal.
Finally there were some crisps and some white tea with cherry blossom. I have saved these for when I go back to work next week. I love white tea and drink it as work as I have it black and it avoids the whole milk war issue in the office kitchen.
I really enjoyed my first go at Foodie Penpals and have to say how relieved I was that Lucy loved her box which has made me feel more confident about continuing for another month.
If you are interested in joining up contact RockSalt and for more Foodie Penpal blogs visit the founders’ blog Lean Green Bean
It’s funny how the smallest achievement can give you a huge sense of satisfaction and bring a smile to your face. Making four jars of strawberry jams was one of those achievements.
This is the second lot of jam this year from the plot – the first lot being rhubarb and ginger. I like the idea of making jam since it will give me a reminder of summer in the winter and it just tastes so much nicer when you have made it yourself. I think, and I maybe prejudiced here, but I think your own jam even tastes better than someone else home-made jam. I last made strawberry jam about 20 years ago when the boys were very little and I was trying to be a good housewife – then my marriage ended, obviously the jam was not enough, and my finances were non-existence so no more jam making.
I still have the copper preserving pan, funnel and thermometer from back then so I really have no excuse apart from a lack of confidence. I did try making jam last autumn but it was damson and the recipe was rubbish and I had glue. The rhubarb and ginger jam though is quite simply divine and has boosted my confidence.
As we are going away later this week I wanted to pick as many strawberries as possible from the plot. The crop has been ridiculously bountiful, I have never seen so many. However sadly only a third are harvestable and the rest had to be thrown. I don’t know if its rain damage or some disease but many of the fruit are mouldy. I had put a load of straw under the plants a while ago to protect the fruit but with all the rain we have had I suspect it may have done more harm than good. So today I set too and cleared all the rotten fruit, disposing of them off site in case it is a disease, but I still managed to pick just over a kilo. We have had numerous bowls of strawberries so I thought I would give the boys the evening off strawberry eating duty and make jam instead.
After my doldrums about the damson jam it was recommended that I buy the River Cottage Preserves Book you can’t beat Pam Corbin for preserves. I have to say the recipe was incredibly simple and quick – much simpler than I remember. I get very stressed about the setting point so ended up checking three different ways: temperature, saucer and wooden spoon tests. Then I had four jars of sparkling jam. From the leftovers I scooped out of the pan, oh and off the spoons it is very good jam but the proof will be when I re-open the first jar to see how solid it is. But in the meantime I shall admire the jars of gooey ruby treasure on my increasingly full preserves shelf.
Note: I haven’t reproduced the recipe here as I can’t find it on the internet and therefore I don’t want to infringe any copyrights so if you would like the recipe I would recommend buying the book.
… I know it’s not that revolutionary but for me it is a huge achievement. My track record on preserves in recent years has been disastrous. There was the marmalade which burnt and had black bits in it and last summer I tried to make damson jam, over cooked it and ended up with damson glue which was stiff enough to bend spoons!! I used to be able to make jam years back and I have a proper preserving pan and thermometer etc so I am determined to get my jam mojo back so to speak.
Anyway, I have been harvesting rhubarb from the allotment for the first time ever in recent weeks. I planted two plants last year and was very good not pulling any stems in order to give the plants a chance to establish. I have mulched them both with spent hops and manure and they have rewarded me with lots and lots of stems. A conversation on twitter and the prospect of a few days off work with rain forecast brought the idea of rhubarb jam into my head. Dare I try again? Anyway, a recipe was recommended for rhubarb and ginger jam and I bought the rest of the ingredients.
It did seem a rather strange way to make jam to me. I had to cut up the rhubarb and macerate it with jam sugar, lemon juice and zest, stem and root ginger. There was a lot of ginger and the smell was quite overwhelming. I was worried that the ginger would drown out the delicate rhubarb flavour. Anyway, you leave the mix for two hours so the flavours combine. Then you put it in the preserving pan, heat, dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil and heat until setting point is reached. This is where it normally goes horribly wrong. Despite the jam not reaching the ‘jam’ point on the thermometer I set the timer as the instructions suggested and then did the set test and lo and behold I had wrinkly jam.
I even think I have the right quantity at the end of the day. The recipe says 4 x 450g jars and given the different size jars I have I think I am more of less there. Tasting the jam I needn’t have worried as the ginger has mellowed and just warms the rhubarb rather than overwhelming it. I shall now write some labels for the jars but first I think I need some crusty bread.
I have just finished my third term of Botanical Art. This term I have concentrated on a more complicated picture and trying to conquer my fear of watercolour paint. The plums were fairly easy to complete but the leaves were something else and I can see that there is room for improvement. However, I am pleased that I have managed to learn to control the brush better particularly doing the fine lines on the leaves. I find watercolour, and especially botanical art, so challenging as it is so detailed and my previous endeavours have either been in pencil or pastels and much more exuberant. I have had to reign in my urge to do big and bold and had to learn to control a brush for fine delicate work. My classmates have all been going longer than me so I am the newbie and they have a good laugh at my mutterings when my tutor says I need to do something finely!
Despite the challenge I have really enjoyed the classes this year. I just wouldn’t have the discipline to sit down and do drawing at home, there is always something else to distract me. Plus I do get fustrated quite quickly when I can’t understand how to achieve an effect. My tutor is great, much better than the tutor I had a couple of years ago. He is very clever at seeing what your strengths are and helping you develop those so you have a positive experience. However, he also pushes you to try and conquer the things that challenge you. He is very talented and we are always amused when he sits down to demonstrate something and in 10 minutes creates a stunning image which would take us weeks to do – he finishes and says “Like that” as if its easy!
As I have said I’m the newbie and some of them having been going for quite some time and you can tell; their pictures are stunning. As its the end of the academic year we have had to contribute some work to the end of year exhibition. For me this has been somewhat embarrassing as my pictures look so amateur in comparison to some of the others but my tutor was insistent that everyone has something in the exhibition. It is running at the moment at the local college so I really should go and have a look.
The funniest thing about the class is that whilst it is called Botanical Art our tutor is very laid back and doesnt mind what people paint so there are one or two stalwarts who seem to have a thing about birds – this term we have had chickens and a sparrowhawk which I am sure will confuse people coming to the exhibition but there you go it pays to be different. The classes have been challenging and really taken me out of my comfort zone but I have a real sense of achievement from what I have achieved plus I have met some very people who share my love of the absurd – apparently the giggling has increased since I started the class!
In case you are wondering I am all signed up for next term but it doesn’t start until the end of September but one of the things he is going to show me is how to do fab autumn leaves – can’t wait
I feel an overwhelming urge to share with you my Pavlova success. I could pretend that I was suffering from a strawberry glut just as Anna at Greentapestry is but no one who knows me would believe me as they all know I don’t grow edibles. No I was completely taken in by Waitrose’s marketing ploy where they supply on an aisle end a weekly recipe either by Delia Smith or Heston Blumenthal with all the ingredients you need. This is the first time I have succumbed to the whole package, although I have picked up a few of the recipes.
Now I have made Pavolvas before but the last one was a disaster and I have avoided them since. This weekend I decided it was time to face my fears and give it another go. As it was so ridiculously hot I didn’t want to have the oven on for an hour in the middle of the day, so I made the meringue base on Saturday evening and then took Delia’s advice and left it to dry out in the oven. In fact I left mine until the following afternoon. The cream in the middle is a simple mix of mascarpone cheese, fromage frais and sugar and then you make a simple strawberry puree to pour over the top.
The assembly complete I took a quick photo of my masterpiece which was lucky as just after I took the photo there was a snappy sound and the meringue started to crack. The reason is that I should have put it on a completely flat plate instead of a dinner plate with a dip in the centre!
The verdict from my teenage sons was yum yum yum yum – all gone!!!
This is such a simple pudding but it looks very glamorous and as if you have taken loads of time making it. definitely, a pudding to impress with!! So if you are invited to a BBQ this summer and need to take a pud give it a go, though if it were me I would do the final assembly when you get there.
If you would like the recipe you can access it from the Waitrose website here
To date I have been rather purist about my blog keeping it very much focussed on gardening but I have to admit that I have given in to the temptation of chocolate – I know it is a disgrace!
I have been sent five bars of chocolate by Chocolate & Love – yes that’s five bars of proper chocolate. This is real chocolate with high cocoa content and low sugar content – the stuff for chocolate connoisseurs. I am far from being a connoisseur and am more likely to buy a cheap milky chocolate bar with lots of sugar in it. In fact I don’t think I have ever tried chocolate with such a high cocoa content.
The first bar I tried was the one that was completely different to the others. It is called Essential Orange Conscious and the description is ‘Handmade raw chocolate with therapeutic grade essential oils of tangerine & orange’. Quite a description I thought. I’m not that keen on chocolate and orange combos such as Chocolate Oranges but thought I would approach the bar with an open mind. This bar is nothing like a Chocolate Orange. There is a distinct scent of oranges but none of the syrupy orange jelly like stuff you often get. The only hint of tangerine is in a slight citric undertone to the taste. I have to say that I didn’t really like this bar of chocolate – I found the texture a little soft and the bar left a grainy after taste. Not one I would rush to have again.
It was with trepidation that I then moved onto the other bars: 2 x Nirvanabar, 1 x Orange Mantra and 1 x Filthy Rich. I started with Nirvanabar which is described as organic dark chocolate with 55% cocoa. I was really surprised at how much I liked this chocolate. The bar gave a satisfying snap when you broke off a section, the texture was smooth and the taste was intense with a pleasant after taste that lasted for nearly an hour. It truly felt luxurious and made me think that maybe I should try good quality chocolate more often. As the experience was so good and the after taste lasted so long you only need to have a small piece at a time not munch your way through a whole bar in one hit as I am prone to do with cheaper chocolate.
I moved onto Orange Mantra “Organic dark chocolate with natural orange oil”. As with the Conscious bar the orange was not an overwhelming flavour giving more of citrus undertone and to my mind brings nothing to the chocolate. Again the quality of the chocolate was impressive. The last one I tried was the Filthy Rich bar “Organic extra dark chocolate” – this bar of chocolate is really strong and my taste buds were positively jumping after just a small piece. I think this bar is really too strong for my taste but then my tastes are quite pedestrian.
Having tried the bars I had a look at the Chocolate & Love website and was initially surprised at the cost of the bars – £2.90 for 100g bar which seemed expensive to me. However, given the quality of the chocolate and the fact that you only need a small piece at a time the cost seems more acceptable.
I would happily have the Nirvanabar bar again when I want a strong chocolate hit but for my lunch time munchies I will still be sticking to my normal cheap milky chocolate bars.