Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Hallowe’en everyone! We’re celebrating tonight with spicy pumpkin soup, rich beef in Guinness and cinnamon plum tart-how’s that for late autumn on a plate? Later on, when it’s spooky and the shadows are long and eerie, we will light a small outdoor fire to toast marshmallows and see who is brave enough to run around the garden in the dark....

This is a recipe of my mum’s- it’s fairly quick and easy and always gets an enthusiastic welcome!
Cinnamon Plum Tart
6oz plain flour
3oz butter, chopped into small cubes
Half a pint cream/sour cream
3 egg yolks
1oz caster sugar
½ teaspoon mixed spice
1 lb dessert plums
2oz brown sugar
Teaspoon cinnamon
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. You need a tart tin with removable base- about 21cm.
Make the pastry by lightly rubbing the butter into the flour until you have something resembling fine breadcrumbs. Then bring together with some ice cold water- just a few drops at a time, trying not to overwork the pastry with your hands. Roll out the pastry on a well floured board and line the tart tin. In a jug mix the cream, egg yolks, caster sugar and mixed spice. Wash and halve the plums, taking out the stones. Pour the cream mix into the uncooked pastry lined tart tin and lay the plums in, cut side up. Put into the oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Then take out and sprinkle on the brown sugar and the cinnamon. Turn up the oven temperature to 200C/gas 6 and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes approx. until the tart is lightly golden and the custard is set. 



These lovely photos are from a recent trip to Castle Ward near Strangford Lough. It was such a lovely day spent in great company with family and included a hearty picnic in the sunshine followed by a big walk-bliss!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Oh crumbs, I've just received this lovely invitation to Mark Hearld's exhibition Birds and Beasts at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It promises hand painted  wooden animals, ceramic hares, collages in hand painted frames and linocuts...all the things that make life worthwhile in fact! Who wouldn't want to, I just have to find my fairy godmother and see how many wishes I have left!

I am spoilt though because I have just recently got Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II and it's so lovely- I am dying to get cooking from it. I'm a sucker for books like this- written month-by-month in a dairy format, and especially so in the winter when I need all the inspiration I can get. I'm just having a moment with duck with damson gin and duck-fat potatoes.... and orzo with courgettes and Grana Padano.... and lamb 'osso buco' with parsley pappardelle.... where is that darn fairy godmother, I want her to magic up supper while she's at it.

Nigel Slater - The Kitchen Diaries IIand

Thursday, 18 October 2012

October nights are drawing in, the days are much cooler with darkness falling quickly. The skies are inky black with the odd starry puncture mark and our thoughts are turning to Halloween in all its pagan tradition. Everything seems to be centred round the fireside or else the kitchen.
A postcard has marked the page ‘Black Christmas Cake’ in Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet cookbook for a while now. But it didn't seem the right time to try it until the season had properly changed and there was no going back. I had to do a bit of ingredient substitution as his recipe calls for orange extract and chopped ginger glacĂ©,  neither of which I had. But the cake turned out to be totally delicious regardless and perfect for restorative cups of tea beside the fire. In among the madness of normal life I made some "time for tea" bunting with decorated teapots and cups, perfect for these chilly days.

Black Christmas cake
550g dried mixed fruit
150g prunes, chopped
Grated zest of one orange
330ml Guinness/ stout
200g butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
200g muscovado sugar
150g black treacle
3 medium eggs
 250g spelt/self raising flour
½ teaspoon baking powder

Prepare a 20cm round cake tin with non-stick baking paper and set your oven to 170C/ 150C fan/gas 3.
Put the dried fruit, prunes and orange zest into a large bowl. Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Let this simmer and reduce to about half. Add the butter to the saucepan and let this melt, then take off the heat. When the stout/butter liquid has cooled add the spices. Then beat in the sugar and treacle and pour all this over the fruit mix in the bowl. Then add the eggs and mix well. Finally sift in the flour- I used a mixture of spelt and self raising (about 100g spelt and 150g self raising) and the baking powder. Stir the flour in to really well combine. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 2 ½ hours until a skewer comes out clean.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

gentleman dreamer brooch - miniature embroidery artwork
Things have been a bit bleugh, a bit tedious, a bit yawn. By 'things' I mean life. The past few weeks have passed in a flurry of chores- domestic and work- and we've been dancing the merry dance but we'd like to get off the merry-go-round now, if it's all the same to you. We'd like the chance to rest, to draw the curtains against the darkening night skies without feeling that there are still too many jobs on the 'to do' list. I've been reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. It's wonderful- genteel old ladies who have new caps with ribbons made for important occasions, who play cards and go visiting, who eat delicate slices of bread and butter.... Oh, to be a Cranford lady! I hope my gentleman caller looks as dashing as the moustached and top hatted fellow made by Cathy CullisOf course I know what separates me and those Cranford ladies - reliable and cheerful servants. So could all volunteers form an orderly queue beside my gentleman caller and interviews will begin in haste. I wonder if Cathy Cullis could stitch me a reliable cook?
season of memories - embroidery artwork

Monday, 8 October 2012

We've been very lucky with the weather of late- it's all mists and mellowness along with some lovely sunny days which give plenty of opportunities for walks among the amber leaves. 
 I brought the boys to our local forest park and they had a great time running wild and climbing trees.

We also managed some family time- packing an autumn picnic complete with steaming mugs of tea and heading off to The Argory near Armagh. It really was magical- we toured the house which retains its atmospheric Victorian gloomth due to remaining staunchly un-electrified, we took a riverside stroll and rummaged in the second hand book shop buying vintage Penguin detective stories for nights by the fireside...Hope you'd a wonderful weekend too!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Yikes! It's October already. Where is time going? We spend so much of it rushing about and not really breathing, seeing, appreciating. A half remembered line of poetry rattled in my head as I walked the dogs through the silent mists this morning
Stop, stop and listen for the bough top Is whistling and the sun is brighter Than God's own shadow in the cup now
So stop, stop and listen. You might just hear the answers.