Monday, February 28, 2011

Rock buns

My lads had hollow legs. Back in the day that meant three squareish meals and a bit of supper; biscuits, pop, beer; later a kebab, some chips and start all over again. Bleugh, I feel f'lup already.

I'd bake sometimes - perhaps not as often as I would have liked - those things that my busy mother always seemed to be making. The kitchen at home was always filled with the sugary smells of baking - because for my mother nurturing meant feeding and my brothers and I were well fed. We were pressed to yet eat another slice of cake or just one more little tart - 'all full of good things' - things which in these body conscious days are regarded as the work of the devil! I guess this urge to press food - the benefits of peace - on her not insubstantial children may be the result of growing up in fairly impoverished times and then suffering the privations of war and its aftermath. The upshot was that I spent my teenage years and the next two decades trying to become less substantial (and it's a battle I have not won yet).

We'd have sponges and butterfly buns, shortbreads and flapjack, drop scones and always mince pies at Christmas. High days and holidays meant something more extravagant - a complex Batenburg or an exotic gateau (exotic for south Warwickshire in the 60s that is...)

Rock Buns - there were always Rock Buns. I was always a bit sneery about Rock Buns. No, make that very sneery about Rock Buns; but the more I think about it they were quick, cheap and easy fuel and when you have hollow legs to fill that's not a bad thing. Sometimes one must eat one's words as well.

Anyway today the biscuit tin was empty and the Glam Ass was out being an ironworker's helpmate and due home anytime, probably starving and cold, needing tea and sustenance. I rustled up Rock Buns. It seemed like a good homely idea. Could I remember the recipe? No way. The ancient Readers Digest 'Cookery Year'  (given to me when I left work in 1977 on the cusp of motherhood) was very helpful. I seem to have lost the Rock Bun making mojo though - they're more dollops than craggy rocks.

Still, they taste OK. Do help yourselves. Tea's in the pot.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'All the Single Ladies'...

It's February and drama competition time again. Here we have Chirbury and Marton YFC rehearsing their take on Beyonce's 'All the Single Ladies' as part of their 'entertainment'.

We seemed to get off to quite an early start this year and there were moments when things seemed to be going swimmingly, but now with only two days to go before they tread the boards in Whitchurch's unlovely Civic Hall chaos reigns. Maureen tells me they are ready for an audience. I think they should be locked in a room until lines are learned. Properly. I then remind myself that this isn't the RSC. Chill woman! And remember that Neurofen will ease that aching head.

I've had the usual eye-brow lifting shopping list; a big girl's blouse and tartan skirt for the mighty Harry T who plays Mrs Isabel End; an 'Applause' sign and one which reads 'Moo moo' to summon down 'the bull from above'. (Have I mentioned that the show is called 'Never Mind the Bullcocks'? )

The Glam.Ass has been persuaded to make a scoreboard (Did I mention it's a spoof of a TV Quiz?) and its manufacture is turning into a Production in its own right. It will be the star of the show...say no more. This morning's task is to make the numbers to go on it.

Much of the rest of life is put on hold for the duration of rehearsals - not that I've felt inclined to go outside and make a start on the myriad of garden jobs which are begging to be done. This month so far could be summed up with the words 'fog' and 'mud'. The ground is sodden and we have been in the clouds for 50% of the time. How I long to feel the sun on my back again.

These two turkeys made me smile though.  Were they walking to Welshpool - they were certainly heading in that direction.

How like dinosaurs they are - thank goodness they are no bigger. The small Mountain Kingdom of Trelystan, twinned with Jurassic Park perhaps.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The joy of sox...

Over the way at Fir House lambing has started. The snowdrops have at last come into flower and there are one or two primroses brave enough to break bud. Garlic, planted in the autumn, has come through - I have 4 neat rows and am inordinately pleased with myself.

The sun shone yesterday and I took myself to the Derwen. We are so lucky to have this most excellent garden centre (and its sister company, the Dingle Nursery) a 10 minute drive away. Their range of plants is fantastic, as it the staff's knowledge and enthusiasm. A big plus for me is that they have not - for the most part - deviated from their core business - that of selling plants. The perennials were shrouded in fleece but there were spring bulbs and polyanthus - those welcome dabs of colour; a few early flowering shrubs and plenty of seed potatoes too. I got the impression that the world of retail gardening is not roused from its winter slumbers. The benches which held herbs and small pots had been cleared, for refurbishment perhaps. A solitary Pole armed with a pair of secateurs was pruning roses; he nodded behind at his progress to date and gestured expansively and disconsolately at the work yet to be done - 20 or 30 mega-spiny climbers and the display gardens. Rather him than me.

I went and looked at the trees - and that's a triumph of hope over experience. At this time of year they are mostly a collection of dry brown sticks but it occurred to me that if you know what you want this is a really good time to look at their structure and choose a good one on that basis. I wanted a Tulip Tree, a Liriodendron tulipifera, and there was the tree of my dreams - sturdy and well-shaped. I bought it. It was destined to come home with me.

It didn't get planted today - the weather has been foul and sitting indoors has been far more appealing.

But what about the sox I hear you ask? And the joy?

Ah yes, the joy of sox - my winter projects. The nasty knitting has been cast aside yet again. (I notice that it is now at least 3 years since I started - with great enthusiasm I'll admit - this wrap-around cardigan.) The final piece, the tie/waist band, lies half-finished at the bottom of my knitting box, unwanted and unloved. My excuse is the beastly yarn which is horrible to hold and worse to work with.

But the sox have been great fun. After my initial 2 needle attempt I moved onto the real thing using 4 needles = no seams and sufficient interest and complexity to keep someone (me) with the attention span of a flea occupied.

We have sox 1:

 ....and sox 2: 

Am not too sure why the stripes didn't work out the same on both. These are rather too redolent of the hippy stall on Welshpool Market for my liking.

Next up, sox 3:

Finally sox 4, a work in progress.

I must remember that these are meant to be worn - so far I've mostly shown them off.

On a miserable winter's day to sit with my wool and neat little bamboo needles, in front of the woodburner, glass of wine to hand and a gripping play on the radio has been a joy. What's there not to like about that?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Birthday Strudel

The weather has been wild for the past three days - a warmish wind continues to roar in from the west bringing squalls of rain and leaden skies. The sap may be stirring in my veins at the thought of spring but I don't feel inclined to go out and garden when the wind's blowing me horizontal and rain's trickling down my neck. That's right, you've guessed correctly. I'm a fair weather gardener.

So what to do instead? Ironing? Nah. Defrost freezer? Nope. Clean grout in shower? I. Really. Can't. Be. Arsed.  The guest rooms are gussied up and a sleeping bag has been found in readiness for our visiting sons and girlfriends; there's a chicken to go into the oven for supper and even the vegetables are prepped. Perhaps I shall make a comforting pudding - something too homely to justify the grander title of 'dessert'. Apple Crumble and custard perhaps, or Apple Pie. Into the corner of my brain reserved for ideas comes the notion of Apple Strudel. It's more complicated certainly than options a and b but like knitting socks on four needles it's the challenge of the thing that makes it so appealing. I have the time, the inclination and all the ingredients. Apple Strudel it is.

Firstly make a nice elastic dough - knead and pummel, pummel and knead. Then bish-bash, slap it down on the counter for 10 or so minutes until little bubbles can be seen. Let the dough rest. Rest yourself.
On a clean tea towel sprinkled with flour, roll the dough out as thinly as possible:
Now for the good bit: gently stretch the dough out with your fingers until it is as thin as tissue paper, taking care not to make too many holes. Tradition says that one should be able to read love letters though it. I did consider going to my old stash of love letters to prove this point but as a, they are from an old boyfriend, long departed, not the Glam Ass (who never wrote any anyway) and b, knowing I'd get totally involved in re-reading and trips down memory lane etc I decided that seeing the tea towel was good enough for me.

Gather the fillings. As well as sliced apple and a handful of breadcrumbs fried gently in butter there are walnuts and sultanas, lemon zest, sugar and cinnamon.

Brush the stretched dough with melted butter and spread the ingredients evenly as below:
Fold over the bottom edge, pick up the tea towel and roll all before you. Be amazed that is really does work!
Persuade it to go on a baking sheet without falling to pieces. Form into an open 'horse-shoe' shape and brush with butter:
Put into the oven at 190 degrees C for about 40 minutes. It smells heavenly while baking; hot and sweet and spicy. When out of the oven dredge with icing sugar. Serve hot or cold.

Our guests arrived, Harry and Sam, Dan and Katy.  How lovely to see them all and hear their news and laughter. It is my birthday weekend too so there were gifts to enjoy; some pretty slippers, truffles, a bottle of pink champagne, homemade biscotti and a big bunch of white lilies:
For all of these and especially for your good company - many thanks.

We had a roast chicken dinner followed by Apple Strudel and cream. Hang got eaten before I could take that final shot. This is all there is left:
That miserable plateful is not going to tempt anybody into baking a Strudel is it?  Don't leftovers always look so, well, leftoverish and sad?

PS If you need more apple inspiration hop over to north Wales for Elizabethm's Somerset Apple Cake. It's next on my list.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A bit of colour

February at last! Or February already? Take your pick - I can't believe just how quickly the days pass, gobbling up my life.

Yesterday the thermometer was reading -6 degrees C and today - while I've not gone and looked - it must be at nearly in double figures. The sun on my back felt warm. Look at that beautiful blue sky:

Last spring we put in two Witch Hazels; this one is Hamamelis intermedia 'Jelena' and the yellow one below, H. intermedia 'Pallida'.
They come into their own at this time of year - from March to January one could only describe them as nondescript and boring.  Right now Jelena is certainly worth close inspection with glowing, russet thread-like flowers while acidic Pallida is a bit more visible from a distance. Sadly neither of them seem to be particularly fragrant but the welcome splash of colour in a drab garden makes up for that.

The Dogwoods are rewarding too - I've clumps of the red-stemmed Cornus sibirica, olive stemmed C. sericea 'Flaviramea', black stemmed C.alba 'Kesselringii and the fiery C. 'Mid-winter Flame'. Again nothing to talk about for most of the year but right now they have bulked up into blocks of colour.

The multi-stemmed Birch are rewarding too - now they have grown big enough to have the glowing white bark which is their u.s.p.

Gardeners are such patient optimists. We put in insignificant little sticks, sit back and watch and wait. Then one spring  - voila! We see those little twigs are doing what they were meant to do - they've grown into the shapes and forms we intended - and hurrah! there is the winter structure and colour we planned.

Now I must wait for the bulbs I planted with frozen fingers in the autumn to make their welcome appearance.  No time to be still either, there's next early spring to be thought about - I've spotted a few gaps to be filled and some winter causalities have opened up other opportunities.

Can feel myself getting quite excited - the sap's definitely rising.