Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Surfeit... (updated to include recipe idea)

...of patty pan squashes - time to search for more recipes methinks.

Patty pan squashes are taking over my life.  Today we had pan fried squash, peeled because they are quite large now so the skins are much thicker, then sliced thinly, fried in some garlic infused olive oil with some of the greenhouse ready cherry tomatoes.  Once fried, I added a litre of chicken stock and left them to cook for 30 minutes until tender.

Served tonight with some garden carrots - how do they manage to taste so carroty compared to supermarket carrots?

Alongside some stuffed turkey breasts.  These I actually found reduced at the end of the day yesterday in the local supermarket so grabbed them quick because you don't get many reduced bargains in France.  I bashed them flat with a rolling pin (cover the meat in saran wrap/cling film before bashing as it stops bits of meat flying off and sticking to the walls).  Once flattened I chopped some fresh basil leaves, added ground black pepper and mixed it with some soft cheese - I used sheep's milk cheese for no other reason than I found it on offer at our local farmers' market the other day and decided to try it.  Then spread the cheesey paste on the meat and roll up before putting in a shallow oven proof dish and cooking for 45 minutes at 200°C.


Temptation vs Seduction

Temptation - an act that looks appealing superficially but usually has a negative connotation, infers a lack of self control.

Seduction - a deliberate enticement, from the Latin "to lead astray", can be positive or negative but more usually refers to a sexual connotation.

My brief time in the UK seemed to be full of temptations, seductive in their allure, and mostly caused by this being on the doorstep.

Of course I did not deny myself, staunch self belief must allow that having made a public vow not to be consumed by consumerism that I would be able to uphold that vow even in the face of such an arsenal of enticements.

Ahem - just because I resisted doesn't mean Thea did the same!

I have therefore mananged to maintain my no new clothes vow, shopping for clothes only in charity shops and on second hand stalls.

But no way could I resist these:

- you can't expect me to really - after all new shoes are an essential element in a happy Monika, and these are my first new new new pair this year - only £3.00 in the New Look bargain bin.

Oh dear - consumerism wins  - well - they have got purple satin ribbons!!!

Days and days of roaming around old stomping grounds and trawling through shop after shop merely reinforced my feelings that consumerism  seems to have become a societal panacea for any ill.

Cafes, pubs and coffee shops were empty, yet every shop I saw had at least 3 or 4 customers already carrying bags from other stores.  Snippets of conversations that ran along Jeremy Kyle lines were persistently interrupted in mid flow with exclamations over sale bargains or Friday night's essential dress code and where to buy it.

I did not think that I had been gone that long but I did not recognise the dramas being played out around me.

Forgetten are those leisurely lunches of putting the world to rights between friends, a fast food fix and on to the next shop featured on a glossy photospread seems to be the new order.  I sat with a friend eating lunch in an area where every conceivable cuisine was on offer and watched the speed at which meals were crammed in, where conversation consisted of which shops had not yet been trawled and watched bludging bags fight their way through more bludging bags to the nearest tills, when we had sat there for an hour I realised that the tables around us had changed customers 3 times while we lingered catching up on old times.

Finally it dawned on me, it is not the world that has changed - it is me.  And I am immeasurably happier as a result.

So after 4 years in the sticks in rural France, what were my top 5 buys once back on UK soil:

1.  NEW SHOES - obviously.
3.  CLOTHES - with every other shop now a charity shop once you move away from the large shopping malls, there are good quality items to be snapped up everywhere.
4.  HERBS AND SPICES - even the internet cannot compete with 150g of ground paprika at 29p.
5.  BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS - by far and away the thing I spent most of my holiday pennies on.  English books at £1.00 in every charity shop, even some at 50p still, and I really pushed the boat out splashing out on some at £1.49.  

Today my shopping parcels get picked up in the UK and start winging their slow way across the Channel to me.  Should be here by Friday.   MUST NOT SIT AND READ ALL WEEKEND!!

P.S. - yes OK, I did buy stuff in Primark too - their socks were just too tempting - would socks count as clothes, not in my mind, I am sure they fall into the underwear category.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What I did on my holidays...

This is the absorbing view from the kitchen window during my holidays.

Being an early riser at heart and the hour difference not affecting my body clock but leaving me wide awake and in need of coffee at 6.30 am every morning I spent several hours each morning staring out at the neighbours.

Normally our neighbours are more bovine and have little entertainment value first thing, so this was quite a difference and highly educational.

Things not to do when silhouetted in a window  (all of which I observed over the course of a few days):-

1.  Choose a bad tie. This poor gentleman spent several minutes trying on various shirts and having finally decided on a puce purple to go with his blue suit, he then added a tangerine tie.  I kid you not - this is a guy with serious colour issues - GOK WAN WHERE ARE YOU?  I was almost shouting at him (mentally of course not wishing to wake the neighbours)  'choose the blue one!'.  I am sure he went off to work happy though as he seemed to have quite a spring in his step.  Maybe its just me who has unadventurous colour issues?

2.  Lose things in your handbag.  This was so hilarious I was actually looking for a video setting on the camera.  It was just like a black and white pastiche - first she rifles through the bag, then she clutches her head, then she rifles through her bag again, then she runs her fingers through her hair, then she rifles through her bag violently throwing things out, then she shakes her head, she tips the bag out onto the windowsill, items roll and scatter, she scrabbles through them desperately and backs away shaking her head even more violently - she returns to the window, peace is restored, she has her phone in hand, all the scattered items are lovingly replaced in her bag, she fixeds her ruffled hair and leaves the window.

3. Have a heated debate. I think this is a bit of a given, however this was a particularly early morning for me, about 5.30am, it was still before dawn and so they were perfectly backlit against their light voile curtains. Finger pointed and hands thrown in the air dramatically, better than any Chinese shadow play.  I don't think they were too concerned about disturbing their neighbours.

4.  Remember that frosted glass is still see through.  She had a shower, she decided to apply body lotion, she did it next to the window with the lights on behind her on a dark overcast morning.  It was clearer than the TV.  Enough said - apart from to wonder whether there was an intended audience.


'Entrances 2'

~ Today's project therefore was to make a start on the photos - more still to come.

As well as a lovely lunch of homemade sausage rolls and fresh tomato salad from the greenhouse - so glad to be home and have my garden around me full of lovely healthy produce. ~

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The best laid plans....and sushi rice

Today's plan was to unpack those last few items from my hand luggage and make some sense of the photos that I took whilst in the UK with a view to getting them loaded onto flickr in this month's allowance.


That's all I have to say.

So far I have been swamped catching up with all the letters and paperwork outstanding from the last week.

I am still trying to respond to all of my emails, and I still owe my friend a long detailed letter that I started at the airport, ran on for 14 pages and now has dribbled out of content but has not been finished if you follow me.  It currently sounds like the unfinished symphony in D minor - where D stands for depressed - can't send it in that shape she'll be on the next plane out under the impression that I am about to leak claret all over the bath.

But - I have weeded out my flower beds and collected up the last of the poppy and sweet william seeds ready for next year, just waiting for the asters to finish flowering and I'll have a good collection of flower seeds ready.  Can you say "procrastination"?

I also went and 'communed' with my studio, having not dared to be in there for the last couple of days for fear that I would just lock myself in there and not come out.  My  little brain cells are zinging about all over the place putting together all my existing fabrics with the car boot delights winging their way by post to me now.

This is how I feel today .......

One of things that I did do in the UK (mainly thanks to another friend who steered me (literally after I got confused wandering around the shopping centre) in the right direction) was to eat Sushi.

I heart Sushi

And I can't make it to save my life.

I have bought the seaweed sheets, I have found the right sushi recipe, I have the right ingredients, but it just does not taste the same.

Thank you M&S for bringing sushi back into my life.

Sushi ~ cold boiled rice moistened with rice vinegar, usually shaped into bite-size pieces and topped with raw seafood (nigiri-zushi) or formed into a long seaweed-wrapped roll, often around strips of vegetable or raw fish, and sliced into bite-size pieces (maki-zushi).

To make sushi rice, use only short grained rice, washed and rinsed well then soaked for 30 minutes before cooking.

Cook in just enough water to cover the rice for 20 minutes in a pan with a lid, first bring the water to a boil then leave on a low heat, finally turn off the heat and leave the rice to steam for a further 15 minutes.

My handy hint :  if you are worried about how much water to use to cook rice so that you don't end up with soggy rice soup, add slightly more water, cook for 15 minutes then drain the rice.

Let the hot rice water drain into the cooking pot, leaving the rice in the colander place it over the pan making sure that the base of the colander and therefore the rice are no longer immersed in the water then cover with the lid - this allows the rice to continue cooking in the steam.  

Leave over the low heat for the final 5 minutes, then leave to continue steaming for the last 15 mintues.

The sushi vinegar is made from 1/3 of a cup of rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons of fine sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Heat these together until the sugar dissolves then leave to cool.  With a wooden spatula stir the sushi vinegar through the hot rice, being careful not to mush the rice up with the flat side of the spatula.

Well all this boring paperwork is giving me an appetite, looks like leftover Thai curry from the freezer tonight, bulked out with yet more green beans from the garden and a few more patty pan squashes - from having none last year I am now overrun with the blasted things.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My not so secret, secret addiction. (updated)

My name is Monika and I am a Rayburn-a-holic.

It started when we were in the process of talking ourselves into buying a permanent home in rural France as opposed to a fixer-upper to use in our summer holidays, in amongst all the mental bargaining and deal making we had decided on wood fired heating incorporating a stove and a means of meeting our hot water requirements.  The perfect solution was a Rayburn (ours is a no.3 built in 1953), with an integral back boiler, multi fuel so coal as well as wood, and a kitchen classic from the 1950s, right in keeping with a stone rustic farmhouse from the 1850s.

We bought the carcass of a Rayburn from ebay for 99p.  I still remember clearly the guy's face when we turned up with the Land Rover and trailer and he asked us how we thought we were going to lift three quarters of a tonne of cast iron onto a trailer and we replied that we were going to dismantle the Rayburn first!

The Rayburn we bought had excellent enamelling however it was pretty rotten on the sides and back, but the back boiler was in good order and it had all of its door handles, hinges, plate rack and stove tops.

So started the restoration.

We had the good fortune to be living about 50 miles from the home of Aga and Rayburn (a Rayburn being the solid fuel incarnation of the more well known Aga), so finding replacement firebricks was a doddle, then the rotten sides and back were replaced by shiny stainless steel, the gaps filled with Rockwool, a few screws and some fire cement and my beautiful stove was reborn.

This is the point at which some photos are called for but the battery is on charge again.

My beautiful Rayburn now runs two bedroom radiators, provides our winter hot water, kitchen heating and I do the majority of my cooking in it.

So why am I telling you all this? -  because I was going to light it today to get started on my beetroot pickles and marrow jams, and then went and got all distracted tidying up my greenhouse instead - it was a bit Day of the Triffids in there.

 Having cut back all the tomatoes, weeded and harvested those lovely little cherry tomatoes ready for cooking I then came back inside and tackled all those housework things that Brendan had been blind to whilst I was away, hence the stairs got swept, dusting got done, floors got mopped and bathroom had a proper clean round.

If this wet weather that I have bought back from the UK persists I may light the Rayburn tomorrow and start pickling then.

So - updated - Saturday afternoon while I was busy hacking away in the greeenhouse it started to persist it down, coupled with Brendan declaring all the plums being ripe, I decided to light the Rayburn and get on with the first lot of autumn harvests - feels a little odd to be doing this in August but hey ho - funny old weather.

We picked a row of beetroots and set them to boiling for the pickled beetroots.  I always scrub mine very clean before boiling because I preserve the water afterwards to make Barszcz for Christmas.  This beetroot soup is a good old fashioned Polish addition to our menu.

To preserve the juice, once I had claimed all the beets out of the water, I simply poured it into a freezer bag held upright in a measuring jug and put it in the freezer, then I can remove the jug and just have a solid block of purple-y beetroot stock ready for use.

 With 7 jars of beetroots pickled, I also managed to bottle up 9 jars of plum and elderberry jam, delicious.

This is only the second year that our plum tree has fruited, they are small dark purple plums but so juicy and tasty.  I have no idea what variety they are as the tree was already here in the garden when we arrived, and even our neighbour does not know what sort it is - although he has told me on several occasions that the tree won't fruit.

It overlooks the chicken pound and as they get ripe and fall the chickens fight over them.  They wolf them down to the point that they end up with discoloured poops everywhere - today all the poops are a virulent shade of red due to them eating beetroot peelings and drinking the last of the beetroot water, then scoffing elderberries and plum skins.

We also had a go at pickling some of our quail eggs - but in red wine vinegar to stain them pink - no I don't know why it just seemed a good idea at the time.

And of course in the background you can see some plum syrup heavily doused with vodka ready for autumnal cocktails!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Quintessentially English

Whilst in the UK one of the most enjoyable times I spent was with some friends for a birthday 'house' party (here).

The party venue the morning after,

and just some of the grapes, shame they were not ripe enough to pick.

Magnificent house and a fantastic couple of days - thank you for inviting me.

Whilst there we had a traditional English cream tea, that and the setting, following a game of cricket on the lawn just seemed so evocative of that air of quintessential English-ness that I have been quite inspired and have indulged in some cream tea baking - obviously I have digressed and so my cream tea has more of an international flavour.  I hope that you enjoy the recipes as much as I did.

Lavender Shortbread

50g caster sugar
1/3 teaspoon of dried lavender flowers
175g plain flour
115g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

Preheat oven to 160°C, you will also need a shallow square cake tin.

Whizz up the flowers and sugar in a food processor, then work the butter and flour together with your fingertips to create a crumbly texture, add the sugar and flowers and create a firm dough, working with cold hands.

Press the dough into the tin using the bottom of a glass, prick with a fork and score into fingers.  Sprinkle with a little more sugar then bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  Once baked golden cut along the score lines while hot, leaving the shortbread in the tin to cool.

Strawberry Sablés

225g plain flour
50g ground almonds 
pinch salt
75g icing sugar
130g unsalted butted, diced
1 egg
1 beaten egg for glazing
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g small strawberries

Line two greaseproof trays with baking parchment, you will also need a biscuit cutter - I just use a glass with the rim dipped in flour.

Whizz together the flour, almonds, salt and sugar, then add butter and pulse to create a crumbly mix.

Beat together the egg, vanilla and add to the flour until a dough ball is formed, then chill the dough for an hour in fridge wrapped in saran wrap/cling film.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Roll out the dough to 5mm thick and cut out the biscuit shapes, arrange on the trays, prick each one a couple of times with a fork and brush with the beaten egg before baking for 15 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then assemble into sandwiches with the strawberries cut in half as the filling, dust with some icing sugar to finish.

Russian tea cookies

75g room temperature butter
25g icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
40g roasted hazelnuts finely chopped - or almonds or walnuts
100g plain flour

Preheat oven to 180°C

Cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the vanilla and the nuts, finally sift in the flour to create a stiff dough.

With cool hands roll small sections of the dough into little balls about 3cm in diameter, arrange these on a greased baking tray and bake for 12 minutes.

While they are still hot, roll them in the icing sugar to coat, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

Roll in the icing sugar again before serving.

White Chocolate and Cranberry Florentines

50g butter
50g caster sugar
3 tablespoons double cream
25g flaked almonds
75g chopped mixed nuts
4 glace cherries chopped (I always seem to have these knocking around - it must be the Martini cocktails!)
40g mixed peel chopped (optional - I hate mixed peel so never add it but the traditional recipe calls for it)
15g dried chopped cranberries
25g plain flour
100g white chocolate broken into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line two trays with greaseproof paper.

Put the butter, sugar and cream in a saucepan over a low heat, stir until melted then bring to the boil, remove from the heat and stir in the nuts and cherries, peel and cranberries, then the flour.  Mix to combine.

Drop tablespoons of the mixture onto the trays leaving spreading room between them and bake for 10 minutes.  Press flat with the blade of a knife while they are still hot, leave to cool for 10 minutes on the trays then transfer to a wire rack to allow them to harden fully.

Once cool, melt the chocolate in a bowl over boiling water and spread onto the underside of each biscuit, as the chocolate thickens run fork tines through it to create wavy lines.

Classic Scones

225g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons caster sugar
50g butter
75ml milk
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

In a food processor whizz together the flour, baking powder and sugar, add the butter to create a crumbly mixture.  Tip onto clean surface and make a well.

Beat together the egg and the sugar, pour into the well and form a soft dough.

To get those lovely round high scones I have found that the best way is to roll the dough with cool floured hands out into a thick sausage shape, about the diameter of a rolling pin usually, then cut into slices about 2 cms thick.

Place the rounds onto a lined tray and brush with a beaten egg, then bake for 8 to 10 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Serve with some warmed jam and cream for a traditional cream tea scone.

OK - writing up those recipes and starting the mammoth task of catching up with myself for the blog entries I missed has truly created an appetite.

Tonight's dinner is coming from the garden - I am so happy to be back in my own kitchen.

Garden collage

These are the projects I have tackled today to try to tame the garden: picking green beans, harvesting broccoli and cauli for the freezer, harvesting red cabbage for pickling, picking and cooking patty pan squashes, picking the first pick of the pumpkins for winter storage, taming the wilderness that is the greenhouse, picking some of the first crop of red onions to allow them to dry for winter storage, snapping all the flower heads off the carrots, picking the overgrown savoy cabbages for the rabbits to scoff.

And yes you are right - I am doing my gardening with a machete - it is a wilderness out there.
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Glad to be home....

...... now just need to catch up on everything.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On the countdown....

....till I get  back home.

Just a quick note to say I survived the trip, feeling very underwhelmed by the whole experience and looking forward to heading home.

see you soon

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bags are packed....

Busy busy busy this morning, getting ready to fly away to the UK.

So far, house cleaned - well you leave a bloke by himself for 10 days, who knows what you are going to come back to, I mean he is house trained but I don't imagine that he is going to have vaccuming and dusting high on his list of priorities.

Fridge emptied - ditto to the above - I just don't want to come home to a brand new eco system evolving in the nether regions of the fridge.

Eggs distributed amongst the neighbours, also courgettes and marrows - not that he can't cook, he just won't, and besides I can't expect him to eat 36 eggs and as many courgettes!

Ready meals pulled to the top of the freezer, he may actually eat the prepared spag bog and curry I have left him.  At least he can throw a pizza in the oven when he gets home.

Bags packed - found a lightweight canvas bag at a car boot a month or so ago so that is my hand luggage rather than the heavier wheeled trolley thing, camera and lenses nestled in securely, phone numbers copied out, passports and tickets - check!

In fact the clothes took me longer than expected to pack - remember this, well hidden in there is the vow I made to sort out my wardrobe - would you like to hazard a guess as to when I decided would be the optimum time to sort out my buldging at the seams wardrobe - that's right - this morning while I was packing!

Being restricted by the baggage size and weight (and having been advised how very strict these are nowadays) I was adamant that I would take only a capsule wardrobe with me, but that meant I had to first find the items that could conceivably be considered suitable to take in a capsule wardrobe, secondly that I had to try everything on, because some of these things have not seen the light of day for... well, years actually, and thirdly, I had to go through everything trying on all the things that I had forgotten that I had.

In the end I have managed to squish 3 pairs of trousers of varying lengths and thicknesses (you never know with the weather), 5 shirts, 2 lightweight jumpers that can be layered, 5 vest tops that can be layered with the shirts and jumpers, 1 longer length tunic top that could double as a dress if it gets really hot, 1pair of ballet pumps, pjs, undies, 1 camera plus lens plus macro lens plus cables plus battery charger, 1 mp3 player plus cables, 1 notebook plus pen, a pack of cards and the contents of my handbag into  my alloted 50x40x20 bag.

Not bad going really, and only 8 kilos according to my scales.

So bags packed and waiting in the hall, Brendan's dinner prepared for tonight when he gets back, and, oh yes, last but not least (why oh why do I do these stupid things), I cut then dyed my hair too.  Don't ask - just don't ask - suffice to say there will be no photos of this particular debacle!!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quick reversible bag from recycled fabrics

With my departure date looming large on the horizon and storm clouds even larger with imminent rain, decided to have a couple of tranquil hours in the studio before having to close the door on it for 10 days.

Took this sari/skirt that had been recently donated and unpicked it while watching The Hotel Inspector, then combined with a donated dress I made up this reversible bag. It is just lacking a button for the fastening.

Unplugged my stereo, turned off my trusty sewing machine, and switched the lights off. Be back soon.
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Harvest day and holiday musing.

The storms that we have been forecast for the last couple of days have not arrived and the garden is parched, but somehow manages to keep providing us with gluts.

Today is a glut of second cut calabrese, the first cut of the main heads was a couple of weeks ago and now all the resprouting has provided us with another bag full, and in addition 6 of the cauliflowers needed cutting. We also gathered in another large colander of french beans, several more courgettes, and 4 patty pans squashes.

I am trying to get as much of the ready to freeze stuff in as I know that whilst I am away my dear other half will forget that the garden even exists and I don't want to lose too much.

Speaking of going away there are only a couple of days left till we fly into the UK. To say I am underwhelmed by the prospect is an understatement. I don't think I could be less enthusiastic if I put any effort in. I am looking forward to seeing my mum, it has been 10 months since we actually saw each other and I know she has missed Thea, and there are a couple of fun events to go to while I am in the UK, but nonetheless I shall hate leaving my house and my stuff behind, the garden needs a lot of attention at the moment and there is so much to harvest, as well as the rabbits on deathrow to sort out, and of course my studio.  I should perhaps point out that it has been 4 years since Thea or I have been in the UK, neither of us has been back for a visit since we moved out to France in 2006.

I am also determined not to fail in my project mission just because I happen to be in the UK, but without my sewing stuff and the general clutter of my life around me I am not really sure what to do. I will also be without internet access unless I find an internet cafe to use so my posts are unlikely to be daily either. The trip to the UK was not planned until my 2010/365 project had already started.

I have been thinking of keeping a daily journal while I am in the UK. Not just because I will inevitably find some projects to complete but as a project in itself. I love the act of physically putting pen to paper but these days correspond mostly via a keyboard. It would be interesting to see what illegible scrawl my once lovely penmanship has degenerated into (years of bashing with a ruler if we did not write neatly in school has been an indoctrination hard to shed but I feel that I have finally succumbed to the slobbishness of querty..)

My trusty Canon is taking the trip with me so I am setting myself a photography challenge too. The random word challenge. Each day I will pick a word at random from a random book and photograph something to illustrate the word.

Hard to find any gardening projects to do when my mum's is mostly slabs, but I know she hates cooking so I think there is scope for recipe blog entries. I am tentatively looking forward to going to a UK supermarket and finding everything under one roof having gotten used to travelling an hour in order to buy chillies here in France because nowhere local sells anything more exotic than a red cabbage.

Oh well - que sera - as they say.

In a last ditch effort to try not to lose the runt of the chicks to a passing buzzard we have been reinforcing the grill fencing to try to prevent him squeezing himself out and roaming around the garden.

A proper bit of improvisation this, some blue baling twine (recycled of course) and some dry twigs from when I cut back the trees earlier in the year combined with a bit of nifty weaving should hopefully stop him from being someone else's dinner.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday the 13th - chill out day in the studio.

Not being a suspicious kind of person Friday the 13th does not really affect how I organise my day, but this stinking head cold that is persisting had a great influence on me instead. I decided as the weather has been a little chilly and I was not feeling so good still to spend the day catching up on things in the studio instead.

I started by lighting my little fire. This lovely little enamelled fire is not really big enough to warm the room effectively in winter when temperatures drop to -16°C (daytime temperatures), but it is quite adequate to take the chill off a room in spring and autumn. Now I know that in August we are strictly speaking in the height of summer, but my temperature gauge was only registering 15°C in the studio and I have a desperate need to keep my Lemsip levels high so I lit the fire anyway, just for an hour to warm the place up so I could be comfy for the day and to boil the kettle.

It also occured to me that the photos on my blog are a bit of a lie. They only show the studio as it was when first finished. So I took a couple that tell the real story.  (and even that is a bit of a lie because I tidied up recently and now you can see the floor and some of the worktables which were buried just a couple of days ago!)

So from left to right is my ideas board which is actually an old picture frame that I have strung some wire across and use little mini pegs to attach things to, my Christmas pressie the stereo and mp3 player, the comfy armchair and book for when things get too much, the cutting table I stole from Brendan back in June with the big mirror underneath that I have not worked out how to hang up yet, then there is the lovely 'POSH' rug that my mum sent for the dog for his Christmas bed a couple of years ago, and shelving holding just some of the material I have to play with.

Then continuing around the room, just visible on the left is the table with the iron on, a chair I tried to shabby chic paint effect but looks really naff, a pine bed shelf that I found in the sales and made Bren fix to the wall, a tapestry frame covered in work in progress items, a chinese folding screen with pockets full of sewing magazines and patterns, then my Ikea tables that I work on, luckily the other 3 boxes of old clothes are hidden from sight.

The floor is concrete but a lovely friend gave me the rug so at least my little tootsies stay warm, and you can just see Molly posing in the nude on the right.  360° tour of the studio.

The brick built end is actually a bread oven, which is what my studio used to be.

The oven was shared historically by 5 houses, who would stoke the fire up and bake their bread every other day or so.  The fire would be lit in the oven (behind the black door) and allowed to burn fiercely until all the brickwork was hot, the dough would be left to proof underneath in the hollow space.  Once the oven was at baking temperature, the dough would be moved out of the way and the fire would be shovelled into the hollow and left to go out basically (it is just a niche with no flue there), and the bread would be put into the oven.  It is quite a big oven, 1 metre x just over a metre, so lots of loaves would bake at the same time.  It had not been used for a long time, and in fact we used to store our wood and coal in there until Brendan installed his death saw in the barn and we moved our wood next to that.  When the bread oven  was empty I could finally see how large it was and how it made a perfect den, originally intended for Thea, but I took first dibs at moving in.

Despite making a mess of the pattern cutting yesterday I thought I would continue with my table cloth tunic top as if nothing else it would be good practise, so I whizzed up the hems with the machine and made a couple of straps in the same contrast fabric as I used for the interfacing on the front and finished the top.
  Unfortunately the cutting error means it is unlikely to fit me, will have to see if I can convice Thea to wear it....

On the plus side the tablecoth is large enough to have another couple of attempts at this pattern.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The malevolent harbinger of viral rhinopharyngitis......................

..................................has scattered their foul spore upon me........in other words............... I have a stinking cold and am feeling pretty rough.

I thought I might console myself with a couple of hours in the studio as any form of out door activity currently leaves me huffing and puffing like a poorly maintained steam train attempting to negotiate a 1 in 7 gradient without the advantage of a rack and pinion track.

Little did I realise that the pesky virus was sorely affecting my eyesight too.

There I was quite happily snipping up the tablecloth I bought the other week, pinning out the tunic top pattern that I am going to sew up when suddenly I realised that not only had I cut into the pattern but when I started pinning it I was trying to match right side to wrong side.

One Lemsip later and I am feeling no better.

In fact Thea sent me to bed an hour ago and I am being very naughty typing away like this when she thinks I am sleeping.

Whilst lying around feeling sorry for myself I had a flash of inspiration and decided on the best way to recover the tapestry stool I have in a corner of the bed room, that is now sticking out like a sore thumb against my beautifully painted purple wall, so I sneaked out of bed, got my note pad and had a quick scribble.

Have to go now, I hear Thea's tread upon the stair and if she finds me up she will punish me!
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I am a domestic goddes I am - no really I am. I AM!

I made a cake to prove it too!

Not that anyone actually wants to eat it (altogether now "ahhhhhhhhhhhh").

Why don't they want to eat it I hear you proclaim, it looks all lovely and risen and moist and yummy and scrummy and all things nice?

Well I'll tell you why no-one wants to eat it (the ungrateful so and so's), it's because it is a courgette cake.

Yes that's right - the scourge of the glut harvest, courgettes rear their ugly heads again.  The courgette bread my family could cope with but they seem to feel that cake is taking it one step beyond.

In fact Brendan went to extremes to declare that courgette cake was just 'wrong' 'wrong' 'wrong' and thrice 'wrong'.

But just in case you feel differently, here's the recipe anyway.

Chocolate and Courgette Cake

350g self raising flour
175g melted cooking chocolate
1 teaspoon mixed spice or cinnamon if you don't have mixed spice
175ml olive oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
150g chopped mixed nuts

Melt the chocolate in a pan, grate the courgettes and whisk the eggs and oil together  - obviously if you are a domestic goddess like me you can do all three simultaneously.

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl with a spatula - no need for electric gadgetry for this if you are a domestic goddess like me.

Grease a springform cake tin or a large loaf tin, pour in the mixture and cook at 180°c for about 40 to 50 minutes - if you are a domestic goddess like me you will know automatically when the cake is ready to take out of the oven, if you are not a domestic goddess like me, stick a metal skewer in it and if it comes out clean the cake is ready.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cupboard Love - Apricot Frangipane Tart

.... but first this.

How anally retentive does a person have to be to have spent an afternoon and a whole morning arranging their cupboards AND ENJOYED IT?

Answers on a postcard (rectangular, at least 31⁄2 inches (88.9 mm) high × 5 inches (127 mm) long × 0.007 inches (0.178 mm) thick and no more than 41⁄4 inches (108 mm) high × 6 inches (152.4 mm) long × 0.016 inches (0.406 mm) thick).*

With my knicker drawer, my baking cupboard, my bread making/flour shelf, the bathroom cabinet and my chest of drawers now alphabetised and cross indexed I could finally get on with some baking.

Remember those apricots I bought yesterday, well here is the first inroad into them.

Apricot Frangipane Tart

- and instantly I digress if only because I just had a fit of the giggles - the first line of the recipe I followed says "This elegant tart is well worth the effort"  - now drag your minds out of the gutter and consider what made me snigger - yes that's right - the word 'elegant'.  Because one thing I am not is an elegant baker so perhaps I am shooting at the moon here but I'm going to give it a go anyway.

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C.
  2. Make a pastry case from 250g plain flour and 125g cold cubed butter and a pinch of salt.  Rub together to form breadcrumbs then add a tablespoon of very cold water and turn out onto a floured surface to knead.  
  3. Roll out and line a greased baking tin then bake blind for about 15 minutes, take the beans out and put back in the oven for a couple of minutes to crisp up the base.
  4. Turn the oven down to 180°C.
  5. Cream together 100g of butter with 100g of sugar.
  6. Whisk in 2 beaten eggs.
  7. Stir in 100g of ground almonds.
  8. Halve about 6 very ripe apricots, remove the stones and press them cut side down into the tart base.  If your apricots are not very ripe, cook them in some water for a couple of minutes just to soften them.
  9. Spoon over the frangipane filling.
  10. Bake in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes until golden and bubbly on top and cooked through.

To serve I made a very quick apricot jam, just a couple of apricots peeled and stoned, cut into small pieces, a tablespoon of sugar per apricot and cooked until the sugar had dissolved and the flesh of the apricots was all mushy - more of a compote than a jam I suppose.  

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Busy first day of my holiday - courgette bread recipe

I am sort of on holiday this week.  In actual fact I have only to work for 4 hours, split between Tuesday and Thursday as my other clients are on their holidays or have family coming to visit who will take on their care in the interim.

I celebrated the first day of my holiday by nipping up the road to the local farmers' market and car boot.  In the end I bought the bits and bobs as in the photo and 2 kilos of apricots.

Our new chicks were introduced to the existing flock this morning and no casulaties so far (touch wood), just a bit of pecking order to be sorted out, and the pans I bought above are to be a new set of feeders and drinkers for the housing reshuffle now imminent amongst the rabbits and the quail with the hutches freed by the chicks now.

It was once again a very hot day, so in a burst of insanity I decided to make bread and do some baking - well I do have 2 kilos of apricots now to do something with, as well as a garden full of courgettes.  

So with thanks to the original poster on selfsufficientish.com (here) - I adapted this recipe and baked it in my bread machine on the wholewheat setting.

Courgette bread recipe  

7 tbspns milk
1/2 cup water 
1 1/2 cups grated courgette 
4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 cup wholemeal bread flour
5 tbspns mixed seeds (I used sunflour and sesamen)
1 tspn salt
2 tspn sugar
2 tbsn olive oil
1 1/2 tspn dried yeast

Well at least that is another lot of courgettes used up - while the force was strong in me I continued grating and filled a couple of empty ice cream tubs with grated courgettes for the freezer to use another time.  The courgettes don't seem to add any flavour to the bread, but they do leave what could be a heavy loaf light and moist. 

Very delicious was the verdict all round.

Obviously I did serve it with a side order of courgettes too!