Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Photo Scavenger Hunt: April

It's time once again for the monthly Scavenger Hunt organised by Greenthumb at Made with Love. I was down to the wire with a couple of the categories this month but I got there in the end.

A is for... : Angler. No, it's not a fisherman, it's an angler: someone who fishes with hook and bait (Oxford English Dictionary).

11am : Saturday 12 April, filling up at the petrol station.

Smooth : I spotted these glass benches/sculptures in Leeds. I think they might be lit up at night but they look just as good lit up by sunlight in the day.

Scale : My kitchen scales.

Tile : Mosaic tiles in the Victoria arcade, Leeds.

Logo : Possibly the most famous logo in the world?

Scrap : A scrap of paper marking one of the recipe choices for my cookery book challenge.

Match : Lighting my teacup candle with a match. I struggled with this one and none of the photos I had seemed right. In the end, I went with the obvious one, taken last night as we played around with poses.

Path : A cobbled path leading out of the woods.

Layers :  Layers and layers of rolls of fabric on a market stall - swoon!

Carry : Two young men carrying sports bags. I did wonder what passers-by were thinking as I followed them down the street pointing the camera...

Truck : An old fashioned truck spotted in Preston.

Hope you enjoyed my selection. Why not join in with us in May? It's great fun and completely free!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Easter Monday walk

It was such a lovely warm sunny day on Easter Monday that it seemed a good time to make a return visit to the local woods. I was keen to see how much had changed in the few weeks since our last visit. In particular, I was hoping for woodland flowers and I wasn't disappointed.

After seeing hardly any bluebells in the woods at Tatton, it was a relief to see large drifts of them closer to home.

There were also large patches of wood anemone.

White is such a hard colour to photograph up close but I finally found this one in a patch of shade so that I could capture the detail.

I loved how this old tree stump had been colonised by lots of different plants...

...including this pink purslane.

It's also wild garlic season and it was growing in abundance. I liked this little patch looking out over the brook.

And here it is with the flowers partially open.

We weren't alone in the woods as a pair of wizards were quietly making their way through the undergrowth, minding their own business.

More pretty flowers. This is red campion - yes, I know it's pink but I didn't make up the names!

And here's some delicate wood-sorrel.

And an even more delicate speedwell.

Last but not least, we saw our first ever squirrel in these woods. I'm sure there must be lots of them out there but they keep themselves well hidden.

I have to say that I'm no wild flower expert so if I've got any of the names wrong please let me know! I looked them up in my field guide and then cross-referenced against a wonderful web site, English wild flowers: a seasonal guide. It tells you month-by-month which flowers to look out for and has lots of pictures from different angles to help you identify them.

In other wildlife news, the first ducklings have appeared! This proud pair have produced a baker's dozen (13). We've been excitedly watching for the first brood to appear for the last week or two and I was at work when I received a text from Chickpea with the simple message 'Ducklings!!!!'. Needless to say I rushed out to have a look as soon as I got home.

I now have two whole weeks off work and am so ready for the break. Unfortunately, it seems I'm coming down with a cold which is just TYPICAL! The silver lining is that at least I should be over the worst before we go to Verona. For now though, I'm off to sit outside with a brew. Enjoy your weekend. x

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

By George and Will!

'Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table!' (As you like it, Act II Scene vii)

Today is St George's Day and also the 450th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. I need very little excuse for cake baking but this surely has to qualify.

While I was reading through Anna Del Conte's Classic Food of Northern Italy as part of my cookery book challenge, I came across a recipe for polenta and elderflower cake. Anna explained that the cake is eaten in Lombardy on St George's Day as he's also a popular saint in Italy - actually it turns out he's a popular saint in lots of countries.

Elderflowers seem so typical of an English summer that it seemed appropriate for celebrating Shakespeare's birthday too. Anna used real elderflowers but, as they're in short supply in England in April, I've adapted the recipe to use cordial. The other change I made was to use both coarse and fine polenta flour but that's just because I happened to have some in the cupboard: you could just use the coarse kind.

Another thing to note about this cake is that it doesn't have the dropping consistency you'd usually expect of a cake mixture. It's more of a dough and needs to be spread out in the tin. As a result, the cooked texture is quite dry and it's therefore mandatory to serve it in a big puddle of cream :)

Polenta  and Elderflower Cake

100g coarse polenta flour
100g fine polenta flour
100g plain flour
1.5 tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
125g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
2tbsp milk
elderflower cordial
icing sugar (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4
2. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the beaten egg, melted butter and milk and mix well.
3. Butter and/or line a 20cm/8" tart or cake tin.
4. Put the mixture in the tin. Spread out and level with your hands or the back of a spoon.
5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
6. Leave in the tin and pierce the top a few times with the skewer.
7. Make up about 100ml strong diluted elderflower cordial with hot water. Brush over the top of the cake. I did this part when the cake was cool and you can see in the photo below that the cordial didn't soak in very far - next time I'll use more cordial and do it while the cake is warm.
8. Leave to cool completely.
9. Optional: To decorate, mix together some icing sugar and undiluted elderflower cordial to a drizzling consistency. I made mine a bit thicker and put it in a piping bag to give a neater finish. Alternatively you could just dust with icing sugar.
10. Serve with cream.

Decorate with a St George's flag. This red and white checked bow was the closest I had!

Happy birthday Shakespeare! And Happy St George's Day to one and all! x

Monday, 21 April 2014

Easter Saturday at Tatton

On Easter Saturday we headed to Tatton Park, one of our favourite places. There always seems to be things to do there, whether enjoying the park or one of the events. This time there was a craft fair and, of course, chocolate themed activities for the children. A giant Lindt bunny greeted everyone.

The weather forecasters had promised sunshine and there was a row of big yellow suns for the whole day on the BBC web site. I have to say that it was actually rather chilly, cloudy and grey and I spent much of the day wishing I'd put a thicker jumper on. We didn't let that stop us with our plans though. After a tour round the craft fair, making a mental note of things to go back for later, we headed towards the farm.

Our route took us past this carpet of green alkanet.

So pretty. The flowers are very forget-me-not like.

Something else that is very pretty is the farmhouse. I dream of living in a house like this, though in my dream there aren't endless streams of tourists walking by and taking photographs.

The farm has the same lovely bricks and dark red paintwork.

On the way down to the farm we saw this wood carving of a sow and piglets. However, these were the only baby piglets we saw as the litters had been born a couple of months ago.

There were lots of fully grown pigs to see though, most of which were fast asleep or eating. Lancelot was snoring loudly.

Myrtle, meanwhile, fell asleep while we watched. Someone next to us commented that she has a face 'only a mother could love'!

Something we weren't expecting to see was an exhibition of drawings by Kim Lewis. Lovely and delicate drawings. Little Baa was the theme for the children's Easter trail.

His namesake was in the farmyard being fed from a bottle and petted by everyone. They have three lambs which are being hand-reared. It amused us that one of the instructions on the information leaflet was 'Do not kiss the animals' but, if I'd been able to cuddle one, I don't think I could have resisted covering it in kisses!

I'd have been less likely to kiss a chicken, though I did admire the colourful feathers on this cockerel.

We were fascinated by the ball of feathers on the head of this crested duck. It looks like a strange growth or a creature hitching a ride.

This female had one too - very odd-looking.

In the forge, a blacksmith was demonstrating how to make a horseshoe. It's a pity we couldn't get a bit closer to the fire to warm up.

Finally, there was a wonderful smell of leather in the tack room.

By this point we were getting hungry, so we headed back to sit in the car for soup and sandwiches - it was too chilly for us to sit on the grass though it didn't deter hardier souls.

Refreshed and with tummies full, it was time for a walk in the woods.

More lambs were spotted in the next field.

Full of the joys of spring!

In the woods there was still a lot of foliage to appear.

And we were surprised and disappointed to find hardly any bluebells - just this small patch.

Lots of bracken is starting to unfurl though.

And that was our day. We did head back to the craft fair to pick up a couple of treats before heading for home.

Top of the list were these cakes from The Little Round Cake Company. On the left we have lemon and blueberry cheesecake, and on the right, sticky toffee pudding. The latter was divine!

We also treated ourselves to some pies: Pork & Stilton, Dark chocolate & chilli beef, and Pork with a cheesy crumb topping from The Crusty Pie Company. The two pork pies were very nice but let's just say the chocolate/chilli beef is an acquired taste.

Today has been a gorgeous, warm and sunny day and it tempted us out into the woods again, though this time closer to home: I'll show you some piccies at some point. I still have one day left before it's back to work. Fingers crossed we have another lovely day. x