Monday, 30 August 2010

Apples and Pears

Our next door neighbours have a great old apple tree in their garden. It leans right over our driveway and makes a fab arched entrance into our garden (though you have to remember to duck your head!)

This year has been a particularly good one for the apples and there's been a tonne of gorgeous, glossy red globes ripening on the tree this past week or two.

Unfortunately, it's also been really windy this week, so many of the apples have fallen. When we get home from work each night and open our gates, there's often a flood of apples that roll down the drive and onto the road.

If we manage to pick them up before they get splatted all over the road by passing cars, they either get put onto the wall at the side of the drive...

Or chucked under the hedges in the parking area for the blackbirds to have a peck at.

Today, however, I picked a few apples off the tree before they got blown down, with the intent of making some delicious culinary experience out of them. I've always fancied making jam, but I have no preserving pan or empty jam jars so that was a 'no no'; apple sauce sounded really boring; and I couldn't be bothered to start making and rolling out pastry for a pie...

So I settled on this scrummy, yummy Apple and Pear Crumble. It doesn't look fantastic in the photo, but it was DELICIOUS! Lots of different flavours and textures.

EDIT: With custard, it looks so much tastier!

I'd had a look through a good few of my cookery books for apple recipes but, as usual, I didn't have a lot of the ingredients needed. So finally I decided on an amalgamation of Bramley Apple & Pear Crumble (Seriously Good! Gluten-Free Cooking by Phil Vickery) and Spiced Apple Crumble (Complete Comfort Food, Contributing Editor Bridget Jones).

Here's my interpretation of the two recipes, using mainly store cupboard ingredients as a substitute for the fresh ones in the originals. Serves 4-6.

'not' butter, for greasing
450g/1lb cooking apples
1 tin of halved pears in juice, drained
1tsp extract of oranges
1tsp vanilla extract
50g/2oz soft brown sugar

For the topping:
175g/6oz plain flour ( I used Doves Farm Gluten & Wheat Free plain white flour blend)
75g/3oz 'not' butter
75g/3oz caster sugar
25g/1oz chopped hazlenuts

Preheat oven to 200c/gas mark 4 (or 190c for fan oven).
Generously butter a 1.2 litre/2 pint baking dish.

Peel and core the apples, then slice them quite thinly into the prepared baking dish.
Slice the tinned pears and place them on top of the sliced apples. Level the surface.
Sprinkle the vanilla extract, extract of oranges, and the brown sugar over the top of the pears. Set aside.

Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the 'not' butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in the caster sugar and chopped hazelnuts.

Spoon the crumble mixture over the top of the fruit. Press the topping around the edges to seal in the juices, but leave the rest 'crumbly'.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and the fruit is cooked (the pears will be quite soft but will still hold their shape, and the apples shouldn't be mushy either, they should still have a bit of bite to them).

Serve hot with custard or vanilla ice cream.

I'm sure the original recipes taste fantastic, but I think my substitution of certain ingredients worked really well too, and that's half the fun of cooking isn't it?

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Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Pigeon and the Egg

It was so windy today that the seeds and currants we threw onto the patio for the birds mostly got blown into the shrubs and in between the paving slabs before the birds could land. We did notice one lone wood pigeon though, braving the high winds to hunt for the seeds.

We chuckled at the bird trying to stay on its feet whilst the wind was gusting all around and the washing on the line was flapping over its head. And then we noticed that the reason the pigeon was walking funny wasn't because of the wind, but because it had an egg between its legs!

Now I'm no avian expert, but I guess this isn't supposed to happen. The pigeon wasn't actually laying its egg on our patio, it was quite happily eating its lunch showing no concern, seemingly.

You can see the egg better in this close-up. The bird wasn't distressed at all. And it flew away quite normally after a few minutes of seed pecking.

Is this common? Have you seen this before?

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Friday, 20 August 2010

Folksy Friday Pattern Picks

My Folksy Friday this week takes its inspiration from the theme of pattern. They can be subtle, they can be bold - but all of these items have stunning patterns that caught my eye in their own individual ways.

As ever, click on the shop links to find out more about the items - posted by my fellow industrious A-teamers on Folksy.

Bright and cheery, and really useful too! Polka Dot Fabric Boxes by Forest Flower.

My Pounding Heart Necklace by Esme Dodsworth Design. Simple, sophisticated and gorgeous!

I love, love, love this Luna Moths Handbag by Shop Stitch Me Lane. Fab colour and stunning design!

The dreamy, swirly design of these Blue Swirl Disc Earrings from Pyro Angel's Sweet Trinkets is really beautiful.

Rag rug making techniques brought bang up to date with this gorgeous Ragged Heart Lavender Pillow from Woolly Lakes.

Amazingly detailed Wooden Cat Picture by Dach Crafts - all hand cut with a fret saw!

Hope you like my pattern picks. Have a great weekend.

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Speke Hall and Garden

A few weekends ago Mam and I went to the Tatton Park Flower Show. As part of the organised coach trip, a visit to a garden of interest is also included in the price. This year we went to Speke Hall and Garden in Liverpool.

It was raining when we got there, so we took the opportunity to have a look round the fascinating house (no internal photos, sorry, as photography wasn't allowed).

It's a fascinating house, 'One of the finest Tudor mansions in the country', says the guide. For a nominal fee you can join a guided tour of the property with one of the costumed volunteer guides, or you can wander through the house on your own too. Speke Hall, as it stands now, dates from the period 1490-1612, but there is evidence of an earlier building on the site (having been mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086).

The estate has been owned by many families over the years and different parts of the house itself have been built, restored and refurbished by them all. Some of the rooms and furniture date from Tudor and Jacobean times, but the history as told within the house itself centres on the Victorian era and Adelaide Watt, it's final owner, who lived there from 1878 until her death in 1921. It has been in the ownership of the National Trust since 1943.

The mansion is big, but it isn't huge; it feels very lived in and you can actually imagine a real family (and their servants) spending their days here. You can wander through most of the rooms, though a couple are roped off and you can just view them from doorway. The rooms are all furnished, many with huge ornately-carved wooden pieces, and there are loads of tapestries, paintings and ornaments to look at too - though I was most taken with the intricate William Morris wallpaper (some original!) in nearly every room.

Each room has a descriptive textual guide which points out the items of most interest (an eavesdrop in the courtyard, hideaways in walls for persecuted priests, fossils in the stone floor of the Great Hall, to name a few) - and every room also has a room attendant who is ready and willing to answer any further questions that you have. The various bedrooms, morning room, billiards room and dairy were interesting, and I loved the Great Hall with its huge portrait, fireplace and suit of armour. But my favourite rooms were the kitchen and scullery which I thought were fascinating, with lots of strange-looking implements and cooking paraphenalia to view (and the room attendant here was particularly knowledgeable and enthusiastic). 

By the time we finished our tour of the house, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeping out, so we enjoyed a walk through the relaxing and peaceful gardens - punctuated by the occasional plane flying VERY low overhead (part of the old Speke estate was sold to what is now Liverpool John Lennon Airport). I didn't mind this at all, far from it, I got excited every time I heard the woosh of the engine as each plane took off (so excited, in fact, that I never actually took a photo!) Anyway...

The gardens as you can see today were created by Richard Watt between 1855 and 1865, and restored in the last few years by three National Trust gardeners in his mid-Victorian planting style. The rose garden (photo above) looked really pretty and the scent was gorgeous, and the south lawn (3rd photo) was very impressive - the estate's gardeners must spend an awful lot of time on its upkeep. The moat borders (5th photo) were designed by Graham Stuart Thomas in the 1970s with lots of dark foliage (Cotinus 'Royal Purple', Corylus 'Purpurea') and splashes of colour in the foreground (daylilies, astilbes, paeonies, echinops, etc).

There's also a stream garden to explore; the north lawn with its evergreen borders; children's play areas and views over the Mersey estuary; and views of the Welsh Hills from the woodland estate walk.

My favourite area in the garden was the long border opposite the house and bordering the south lawn. I'm more of a fan of the lacecaps, but the colours of the mop-head hydrangeas here were stunning.

The garden is open all year round and the house from March to mid-December. There's also a great little shop (including plants for sale), the Home Farm restaurant for a bite to eat, and there's lots of events on throughout the year in both the house and garden (the Victorian Christmas Weekends sound fantastic). You can find out more at the National Trust's website on Speke Hall. We had to return to our coach to travel to our hotel for the night so we missed out on a couple of areas in the grounds - so I'd thoroughly recommend spending the whole day on a visit if you get the chance.

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Friday, 6 August 2010

Fabulous Florals for Folksy Friday

The weather has been pretty rubbish lately - especially on a Sunday which is usually my day of pottering in the garden. So to save me from getting withdrawal symptoms, this Folksy Friday is on a floral theme. All items have been chosen from the August A-teamers (who are listing every day, just like the July Jesters and all before them).  As usual, click on the links to find out more about the individual items.

Okay, first of all: me! I've been listing these cutesy little hair slides in my The Needle Works shop. Different colours are available - and more are to come. Perfect for that sweet little girl in your life (but would actually look great on a 'big' girl too!)

This 'Rosalie Fabric Heart Cushion' by Polka Dots and Posies is vibrant but so romantic too. It would look very pretty on your bed, piled up with other shabby-chic style cushions and a cosy throw.

I love the colours of the floral beads in this 'Pretty Fairy Garden Bracelet' by Jinja Jewellery: so soft and fresh. There's so much detail in this bracelet too - can you spot the little fairy charms?

This bright and amazingly detailed 'Sunflower Print' from Passionate About Photography would certainly cheer you up on a cold, cloudy, drizzly day.

Lonely Hearts has these 'Perfectly Pretty Chrysanthemum Studs' available in pale blue or pink. Wow, I love the pink! Wish I had my ears pierced... 

Bring some of the evocative scents of the garden into your home with this cute 'Lavender Bag' by Adien Crafts.

Or how about personalising a bag or cardi with these sweet and simple 'Flower Fabric Buttons' from Cwtch?

And finally, store all your pins and brighten up your sewing table with this gorgeous 'Aster Lilac Flower Pin Pot' from Granny Ruth's Gift Emporium.

I found an amazing array of florals when I browsed Folksy looking for items for this blog; only a few of them are listed here. So if you're inspired by fabulous flowers, please take a slow wander through the handmade horticultural delights on Folksy - I'm sure you'll find something that you love!

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