The harvest begins

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This year we are growing a few edibles and are just harvesting the first of our chillies.

We invested in a shelf unit to take advantage of the light in our kitchen. We started some tomatoes early – they are in our very small garden now – and along with two chilli plants we also have several pots of herbs that have been on the go all year.

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The herbs have been particularly good value. We just bought some of the growing herbs from the supermarket and have kept watering and feeding them as we pick the leaves as needed.

There’s something very satisfying about picking things you can eat!

 

My No-recipe Cake Recipe

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I remember chatting with someone about improvising when cooking, and they said:

“The only thing you really need an exact recipe for is cake.”

And they are right if you are looking for the perfect Victoria sandwich, swiss roll or any cake that has a name. But if like me you sometimes just want a tasty home made cake, I really don’t think a recipe is necessary.

Here’s what I made this morning.

I noticed that I had three bananas that were getting over-ripe, and as I am waiting in for a delivery I decided to make a cake. I do usually have the essentials in my kitchen – flour, eggs and sugar – but after that I see what I have that I’d like to include. Today I had some sultanas, and some malt flour and softened rye grains that I had used for bread making, and I decided to include them.

This is the uncooked rye. It’s not something I’ve ever had before this week, but I’m experimenting with rye breads, so had some in the fridge that I had boiled until soft and then drained and salted.

So back to my cake method.

I line a loaf tin with baking paper and turn on the oven to about 180 C. In a mixing bowl I mash up the bananas with a couple of spoons of brown sugar. You don’t need much sugar as there is sweet fruit in the cake. I add some flour, a large teaspoon of baking powder to make sure there is some rise to the cake, a couple of generous glugs of cooking oil (not heavily flavoured olive oil: just something light), two eggs a large spoonful of barley malt, some sultanas that I softened and rinsed briefly in a mug of water and then drained, and some milk. Sorry – there aren’t exact measurements. I just add and beat until I have a thick batter. If it doesn’t look enough to fill the loaf tin, I add some more flour and milk. Oh, today I also put in a squeeze of golden syrup, a large handful of the soft rye grains and some ground nutmeg.

Sometime I add chopped nut, sometimes I add grated chocolate, sometimes it’s ground almonds, desiccated coconut, or a grated apple, or coconut flour, or any combination of the above: really I look to see what I have that would probably go with the basic banana mixture and put in whatever I fancy, especially if it something that won’t stay good forever. I hate throwing food away.

Then I pour the whole lot into the loaf tin and put it in the oven for about 40 minutes. I keep an eye on it especially when it’s turning brown on top. When I think it’s done I take it out, press the top to see how firm it is. If it’s very soft it definitely needs longer in the oven. If it has a nice brown almost crusty finish and just a little give when I press it, I reckon it’s done. I usually use a thin sharp knife or skewer just to check. Push the metal into the cake. If it comes out covered in uncooked batter it needs longer. Because the cake has fruit in it, I don’t expect it to come out completely dry. Here’s how it looked this morning.

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Take it out and let it cool, then slice and taste.

1-IMG_1506This is my favourite moment. It’s always a bit of a surprise, but a nice surprise.

If you decide to give this non-recipe a try, I really hope it works for you too.

 

Sand Point, North Somerset

North Somerset is beautiful in the sunshine, as evidenced through these snaps taken on a visit to Sand Bay near Weston Super Mare.

I climbed up to the viewing point on Sand Point and took these shots.

You can variously see a distant Clevedon, the Mendip hills, the North Devon Coast, Flatholm with its lighthouse, Sand Bay, Birnbeck Pier and the Ordnance Survey marker.

 

 

The beauty in rot

 

So I was cutting up some potatoes to cook, and as you can see this one was quite rotten in the centre.

I was quite taken with the image though – the black line that almost looks as though it has been drawn in ink: the contrast with the soft grey mould. Maybe it’s my long ago education as a biologist or maybe I’m a bit odd but I reached for my camera before I consigned the potato to history and the bin.

When you turn out to be cleverer than you thought you were…

I’m basking in the warm and particular glow you get when you have created something that turns out to be rather special, albeit in a small way.

Like many people who learned the basics of knitting as a child, I have recently rediscovered the pleasure of knitting and for the last few years I have been making simple items, mostly following the patterns of the wonderful Erica Knight. She’s inspired me to let my mind wander towards my own projects and I have just re-opened my Etsy shop so I can feature the result: some rather desirable neck-warmers.

Why neck warmers? Well, obviously the pattern is straight forward – it’s a rectangle of knitting stitched together into a tube. Keeping to a simple rectangle has allowed me to experiment with yarn combinations and needle sizes to come up with a very easy to wear and versatile result. I have been wearing my prototype for weeks now and love it – whether going out for a walk, working at the computer, sitting knitting or just watching television it provides the right amount of warmth and definitely helps to stop neck and shoulder muscles freezing. I also love the stitch I’ve used so much that I am toying with the idea of knitting a jumper – something quite blocky, based again on rectangles. I think it could work. But in the meantime, why not neck warmers?

It’s not just me who likes them – I’ve gifted them to family and friends – women, men, boys and girls – and everyone has told me how much they like them. (I know what you are thinking, but my friends and family are very honest people!). I sent one to my artist daughter who tells me she’s been wearing her’s while she works, and that she loves it: it stops her getting a cold, stiff neck while working. Although scarves are great, they often leave a gap where the draft gets in, and they often need adjusting which, if you are focusing on work, can be distracting. My neck warmers are very much “wear and forget” items – that is until you look in the mirror and remember how nice they look!

One of the things that pleases me most about the design is that they are very stretchy and shape-able – you can spread them out for maximum neck coverage, or let them roll up when that suits you better. You can improvise a mini-hat/head band too.

Please take a look at my shop for more colours and information. At the moment I am only posting within the UK, but if you live elsewhere and would like to buy let me know – I can give you a quote for postage.

Thanks for reading! If nothing else, I hope I’ve helped pass on the knitting inspiration and that you’ll have a go at some projects of your own.

 

Fermenting vegetables at home

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This story started when I read Cooked by American food writer Michael Pollan. This is a really great book for anyone interested in food as it explores the basics of cooking with fire – creating the perfect barbecue; water – cooking stews and other delicious dishes that require cooking in liquid; air – raising bread doughs with yeast; and earth – fermenting with fungi and bacteria. He worked with leading exponents of each type of food preparation and takes the reader along with him as he learns techniques that are as old as the hills, but new to many of us in this age of processed food and ready made meals.

The technique that most interested me was fermentation, as this is something I have never tried before. I’ve certainly made chutney and pickles of various sorts, but I’ve always used vinegar and usually sugar as well as salt and other flavourings to get the end result. Many chutneys are really savoury jams with almost as much sugar as jam, so they can’t be described as healthy foods. Fermented veg contain no sugar, and because they are not boiled they contain many live “good bacteria” – the probiotics people buy in products like Yakult. These apparently have many health benefits and I’d already seen plenty of TV chefs from Jamie Oliver to the Hairy Bikers extol the virtues of eating the Korean pickle, Kimchi, which is made by fermentation. I was ready to try for myself.

My first thought was that I’d need to buy a purpose made fermentation kit, and there are plenty of those on the market at quite startling prices. So I took a quick look at YouTube for information from Sandor Katz, who I had learned from Michael Pollan is the guru of fermentation. His short video told me all I needed to know to get started. All you need is a large, clean container – not metal or plastic as the acids can attack those, spoiling the taste and the fermentation process as well as being potentially unhealthy. I had a large glass jar I could use – perfect!

I decided to use mostly white cabbage, with some red cabbage for colour, plenty of ginger and chilli so I would approximate a version of kimchi, some shallots and some carrot.

1-IMG_1162I quartered and thinly sliced the cabbages and put them in a large bowl adding a little salt as I went. I used three quarters of the white cabbage and half the red cabbage, but could actually have used a little more to fill the jar. Once the veg is prepared it squashes down into a surprisingly small volume.

Then I added grated carrot and grated root ginger with a little more salt and started squeezing and crushing the veg by hand (my husband’s hand, to be honest, so I could take the photo – thanks Al!). This starts to get the vegetable juice flowing. After a few minutes, you find there is all the liquid you need to cover the veg. I added the finely sliced chilli at the end, as I didn’t want to get potentially irritating hot chilli juice on our hands for too long. Then I started pressing the veg into the glass jar. The idea is to squeeze out any air as air pockets could allow moulds and the wrong sort of bacteria to grow.

When all the veg were firmly pressed into the jar I topped it up with all the juices from the bowl. Because you need to keep the veg submerged in the briny juice, you need to weigh down the veg. I found a drinking glass that was a good fit, so I filled it with water to make it heavy enough and used that.

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As the veg ferments it releases Carbon Dioxide, so you don’t seal the jar: just cover with a clean tea towel so nothing gets in. I did need to top up the liquid after a day or so – just mixing a light brine by adding half a spoon of salt to a glass of water worked for me.

As Sandor says in his video, no-one can tell you how long to leave the pickle as it depends on your preference. All I can tell you is that fermentation starts straight away so within a few minutes small bubbles of gas start to appear in the mix. I tasted the liquid after a day, and it was already tasting of pickle – the lactic acid was already building up. You probably realise without me saying that the lactic acid tastes vinegary, but I think it’s less harsh version of vinegar.

After three days the colour was a much more even red. I think you’ll agree from the photo that is looks tastier.

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We had some for lunch today in a toasted cheese sandwich with some extra lettuce for some green.

How delicious! It tasted better than shop-bought pickle: lighter, fresher and more naturally vegetable. I had put a lot of ginger and chilli in but there wasn’t as much heat as you might expect: just a nice background spiciness which worked very well with the cheese.

I decanted the rest of the pickle into smaller, lidded jars which are now in the fridge to slow down the fermentation because I like the taste just as it is.

So now it’s just a question of what combinations of veg to try. I am going to get Sandor Katz’s book The Art of Fermentation because there is so much more to this that I want to understand and to try. I’ll let you know as I get more results!

 

 

 

 

When a little means a lot in a photograph

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Today I’d like to share the photograph I took early on a sunny April morning of St Andrew’s Church in Clevedon.

This beautiful Romanesque church is a popular subject for local photographers, nestled as it is between Church Hill and Wains Hill, with the Bristol channel and the headlands of the North Somerset coast as a backdrop. I’ve taken many other photos of the church myself in the past, but this one struck me as being very satisfying.

I can’t really take much credit for being in the right place at the right time on a beautiful spring morning, but I am very happy with the natural light that you find in the Golden Hour photographers always talk about. I especially like the way the early morning light catches the single cross against the dark background, and I think this makes all the difference to the effectiveness of the photograph.

A further admission I need to make is that I didn’t notice the cross when I took the photograph, as I was more concerned with getting the right balance in the composition between the wall in the foreground and the sea and sky behind. So a second lesson to those starting in photography is to look at all your shots carefully when you are back home and editing. Sometimes you have created a better photograph than you realise!

The original photograph is available in my RedBubble shop in many formats. Please take a look!