Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yule logs...fake and real!

This is the scene outside right now...winter has arrived with a vengeance and we here in Maine are girding ourselves for quite the snowstorm.....up to 18 inches are expected by tomorrow morning so we are not dreaming of a white Christmas, we are indeed, going to be living it! Grab your snow shovels and get the kettle on!!
Now...on to the Yule Log/Buche de Noel...here is a pic of the meringue mushrooms in their seperate parts and 'glued' together with melted chocolate...I have to be honest with you...I am very pleased with how these little darlings turned out...James said they look like the animated mushrooms in 'Fantasia' which I am taking as quite the compliment.

Ta dah!!! My first Yule Log in all it's glory...the genoise didn't turn out as thick as I hoped but I am very happy with the finished results.


THE RECIPE
Firstly you need to make those cute little meringues!
Ingredients:
2 egg whites
4oz fine sugar
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature to ensure the greatest volume when you whip and do not attempt to make meringues on a wet/humid day...they won't work at all or will be a disappointment!
1. Beat the egg whites until stiff
2. Gradually beat in the sugar
3. Mix vinegar and vanilla extract together and fold in to egg whites
4. Using a large plain tip pipe the meringue mixture into small rounds and small upright tubes...see pic above for shapes. You will probably get little peaks on both...you can smooth these out with a WET finger....if you don't wet your finger all you will do is drag the meringue around.
5. My recipe then says to cook the meringues in a 250 degree oven for 1 hour which will give you adequate meringues with chewy centres...more like a French macaroon....but I prefer a meringue that is like ceramic so I bake in a 175 degree, if your oven will go that low, for about 4 hours and then I turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there for about 5 hours...the meringues will be dry and crisp and beautiful.
6. Melt the chocolate you are going to use for the buttercream in a pan over boiling water and use to 'glue' the meringue tops to their stalks.
7. Stand back and admire your incredibly cute work....they are irresistible aren't they?
NOW FOR THE CAKE PART: Chocolate Genoise, adapted from 'The Christmas Cook book' by Marilyn Bright with lovely illustrations by Bridget Flinn
Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 extra egg white (whipped to stiff)
scant 1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1. Grease and line with buttered parchment paper an 8 x 12 inch jelly roll pan
2. Whisk the 3 whole eggs and sugar in the top of a double boiler until the mixture is pale and thick and leaves a definite trail when you lift the whisk out. DO NOT stop whisking at any point for fear of curdling the mixture and ending up with scrambled eggs!
3. Remove from the heat.
4. Sift the flour and cocoa together and gently fold into the egg mixture.
5. Fold in the whicked, or whisked!, extra egg white.
6. Pour into the prepared jelly roll pan and smooth evenly with a spatula...I didn't and the cake baked unevenly...it didn't seek it's own level as other cake batters do...how very rude of it and lazy!!
7. Bake at 425 for about 10 minutes...until the cake feels firm to the touch.
8. Carefully flip over onto a wire rack and flip again onto a flat surface, trim any uneven or crusty edges and roll up with the parchment still on it....allow to cool completely.
9. Whilst cooling whip 1/2 cup of heavy/double cream with a few tablespoons of sugar to taste and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
10. Unroll the cake/genoise, peel off the parchment,which probably involves another flip....spread with the whipped cream and reroll.
THE CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
I like really simple buttercream...no mucking around with melting butter and whipping egg whites etc...AND I like to use salted butter to give that nice counterpoint tang that is so popular with caramels right now...I always use salted butter when I bake which I have recently found out is a very European thing to do, I just thought it was because I like the tang of salt with sweet. ANYWAYS...
Ingredients:
4oz softened butter
an inordinate amount of confectioners/icing sugar...I just keep adding until it tastes the way I like....
2oz melted semi-sweet chocolate...again I do this by eyeball and tastebud so you may want more or less.....and cooled so it won't melt the butter.
1. Beat the butter..
2. Add sifted sugar to taste.....
3. Add melted chocolate to taste.
Assemble your YULE LOG/BUCHE DE NOEL
1. Cover the rolled Yule Log with chocolate buttercream...I don't cover then ends as I like to see the cake and cream...but you can do otherwise of course! When covered to your satisfaction pull the tines of a fork lenghtwise along the buttercream and wiggle as you go to make the buttercream look like the bark of a log!!! Very easy and very effective I might say!
2. Add the ridiculously cute meringues anyway you like....see my picture above.
You will get great praise for this dessert so happy baking!!!
Now for some info on real Yule Logs......WOW!, is it snowing here...it wasn't supposed to start 'til midnight but we already have about 2" accumulated and it's only 4pm!!!
The celebration of the Yule Log began in pre-Christian times as a counterpart to the midsummer celebrations those crazy guys held way back then. The fire festival they began so long ago has developed into the burning of the Yule Log either for the modest 24 hours of Christmas Day or more ambitiously the whole twelve days of Christmas from Christmas Eve to January 6th. You are supposed to kindle to the new Yule Log with a piece saved from the log the year before. In years gone by people choose their log from those fallen on their land and the log was brought into the dwelling with great ceremony...we are talking here about castles and grand houses that had hearths the size of a modest family home nowadays. The ashes of the log are scattered over the land to promote feritilty in the crops the following year and a piece of the charred wood is to be kept under the bed to protect the house from thunder and lightning. Oak is the traditional wood for a Yule Log...here is a poem, whose origin I could not determine, that tells the properties of all manner of wood.....
LOGS TO BURN
Oak logs will warm you well,
If they're old and dry.
Larch logs of pine wood smell,
But the sparks will fly,
Beech logs for Christmas Time,
Yew logs heat well,
Scotch logs it is a crime,
For any one to sell,
Birch logs will burn too fast,
Chestnut scarce at all,
Hawthorn logs are good to last,
If you cut them in the fall,
Holly logs will burn like wax,
You should burn them green,
Elm logs like smouldering wax,
No flames to be seen,
Pear logs and apple logs,
They will scent your room,
Cherry logs across the dogs,
Smell like flowers in bloom,
But ash logs all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way,
They are worth their weight in gold.
I can indeed attest to this about ash logs now that I have been using a good old wood burning stove to heat the house these last nine years...I have also discovered I am allergic to oak, love the smell of birch bark and love ash because it does burn when green and puts off amazing heat.
Happy baking and burning...Patricia




Friday, December 12, 2008

"Story of the Yellow Emperor" by James Strickland

James created this box as a touchstone for the myth of the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di, patron of Taoism, inventor of the principles of Chinese medicine and possesor of many gifts of wisdom and knowledge. He reigned from 2497 BC to 2398 BC. The box is made with the chinese cedarwood salvaged from an antique tea caddy, it is gilded with 24k gold leaf, lined with Japanese patterned washi paper and is filled two hand lettered packets of Omani frankincense and Yemeni myrrh.
It looks so lovely in the mellow glow of candlelight and reminds me of the movie "Lost Horizon" which I used to watch again and again with my Mum when I was little. The thought of a mystical city in the Himalayas fascinated me and this sculptural box looks like the city in my mind, I hope my photographs do it justice!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Pudding or Plum Pudding?

The ingredients...minus the egg I forgot!
Look at the apples, they are Black Oxfords grown
in Paris, Maine...they are beautiful!

The 'pud' mixed and ready to rest overnight,
apparently this helps with the lightness
of the pudding and helps marry
the flavours!

The 'puds' ready to be steamed with their
little discs of buttered paper and aluminium foil covers...
So forgive me the lateness of this posting.....I should have done this a week ago so all you wooden spoon and pudding basin wielding Anglophiles could have made your Christmas Puds on Stir-Up Sunday, the traditional day for making one's puddings but, alas, Thankies got in the way and here I am making my puddings late...although the one I have chosen for you doesn't need too much time to mature, it is quite grown up already....By the way the reason it is also called a PLUM pudding, even though it has no plums (!!!!) is because in Elizabethan times imported plums were held in such high esteem that the word plum came to be used in reference to other dried fruits......I use it myself to mean something is great as in "What a plum spot thou hast given to my Plum Pudding on your delightful Christmas prandial table!!!"...and other such comments!
I have chosen a vegetarian pud as I read something on David Lebovitz's blog that has put me off kidney suet for perhaps the rest of my life.
...and away we go....."Gourmet Christmas Pudding" from Rose Elliot's Gourmet Vegetarian Cooking with slight variations by me
INGREDIENTS: (If you need conversions from weights to cups please check out Sue Pallett's website..the link is listed in my blogroll, Thanks!)
8oz fine wholewheat crumbs (about five slices of good bread, I crumbed it in a coffee grinder with excellent results)
4oz butter
4oz whole wheat flour (I only had white and it worked fine)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cardamom (my change, the recipe called for 2 teaspoons mixed spice but I like cardamom, especially with the lemon in the recipe)
1 teaspoon nutmeg (again my addition 'cos I like nutmeg)
2oz fine brown sugar
4oz sultanas (golden raisins)
4oz raisins
4oz currants
2oz candied peel chopped
2oz crystallized ginger chopped
grated rind of one lemon (organic if you can)
grated rind of one orange (ditto)
2oz flaked almonds (I toasted these quite dark as I like that nutty flavour)...honestly though I think you can leave them out as I don't remember almonds in the puds from my childhood
1 egg
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice (I added an extra tablespoon of lemon 'cos I like the tang of it against the dried fruit)
4 tablespoons brandy...I used port because it is all we had...bet you can use whiskey too - or 4 tablespoons of apple juice/cider/pomegranate juice/orange juice - your choice if you don't want to use alcohol.
10 fluid oz brown ale...or you can substitute apple juice/cider

Phew, I'm exhausted with typing already....the rest is easy though!!
Put everything dry into a nice big mixing bowl and mix well. Whisk the egg with orange and lemon juices, add brandy (port or whiskey) and finally brown ale, add the liquids to the dry bits and stir very well. Cover well and leave in a cool place, but not the fridge, for a few hours or overnight to help lighten the pudding. When you are ready to steam, spoon the mixture into greased pudding basins...one large one (2 and a half pint size) or a variety of small ones to give as gifts, put a circle of buttered paper on the top of each pud and then cover tightly with aluminium foil and put into a double steamer basket so the basins are not touching the water and steam the little darlings for about 3 hours, make sure you keep checking the water isn't getting too low.
Take puds out and let cool, then store away in a covered container til Christmas Day (again not the fridge) when you will retrieve them from their resting and maturing place and you steam them ,YES AGAIN, for about another three hours. You will end up with a delicious fruity, moist pudding which you decant from their basins, serve hot and slather in brandy butter which is a simple combination of butter (12 tbsps), brown sugar (1/4 cup) and 6 tablespoons of brandy...cream butter and sugar together until light, beat in brandy a little at a time...very simple, a little crunchy and oh so delicious on a Christmas Pud.....you can also do the traditonal lighting of the Pud by pouring a couple of tablespoons of brandy over the top of the pud and lighting it with a match...it burns off quite quickly and looks beautiful. Happy steaming!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Banoffee Pie - banana, dulche de leche and cream...you're going to love me for this one!!


(Don't know why my pictures are in the wrong order...but they should be reversed....!!)
Yes indeed you are going to think I am the Bees Knees when you make this deceptively simple little pie...it is heavenly! It is crunchy, if you choose a good thin crust, luscious, creamy, very sweet without being cloying...oh what joy! Apparently it was 'invented' in the early 70's at The Hungry Monk in England and has since become one of the favourite desserts of Blighty, my goodness it was even mentioned in my favourite movie "Love actually", which by the way I watch every year near Christmas time...but that's by the by....here we go....

BANOFFEE TOFFEE PIE!!!!!!! 
INGREDIENTS:
 2 cups of canned sweetened condensed milk 

1 9" frozen pie crust...I would normally make the pie crust but in this instance I have found an EXCELLENT pie crust by Maple Lane Bakery which is organic, vegan, unbleached white flour and VERY good...I cook it 'blind' (cautionary note here...do NOT used unpopped corn for this purpose....I did once and guess what happened!!!) and for longer than they say so it is really golden and crisp.

3 nicely ripe bananas...not starchy ones....err on the side of too ripe rather than underripe!

1 1/2 cups chilled heavy/double cream...preferably organic as I have found this doesn't 'weep' after whipping and sitting around for a while, although I have to tell you if this pie does sit around for a while someone's taste buds are dead!

1 tablespoon light brown sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
...and off we go..


METHOD:
1. Pre heat oven to 425F

2. Pour condensed milk into a pie plate and stir in a generous pinch of salt

3. Cover pie plate with foil and fold tightly around the rim. Put pie plate into a roasting pan 'bain marie' (water bath) and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the pie plate. Bake and check on the water occasionally to make sure it hasn't all evaporated, replenish as necessary. Cook until the milk has become a delicious golden caramel colour and has thickened considerably, which may take up to 2 hours...I like mine slightly runny and not quite so dark so it may take less time to get to that stage...see pic above...and can now be technically called dulche de leche, remove from the oven and let cool before popping in the fridge for a while to really cool. I prefer this method to the boil in the ca one as you can check the progress and take the dulche de leche out at the point where you like it to be.

4.Whip the cream with the brown sugar and vanilla....

5. Pour condensed milk caramel into precooked pie crust.....slice bananas all over the top...cover all with whipped cream....make sure bananas are completely covered or they'll turn brown very quickly, the cream will insulate them for a while...although it will be gone so quickly they won't have the chance anyways!!! 

Off you go, go now, trust me you will LOVE this charming little pie....don't assemble the pie until just before you want it devoured so the crust doesn't get a chance to go soggy!!! 

This is my way of saying 'Happy Thanksgiving'

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas comes early...



I know, I know it seems like Christmas advertising comes earlier and earlier each year but honestly there is a method to MY madness on this front. If you order from my Cafe Press Online store early you can get the cheapest shipping method and still be well in time for Christmas, there is some lead time involved in getting the orders made up, they are all individually made to order so a few days is needed before the items you order can be shipped, so I thought if I get this up nice and early you'll have a chance to order early and save money on the shipping..aren't I the nicest person you know, so condsiderate, kind and thoughtful!!! Anyways...happy shopping and do let me know what you think of my wares. Merry Merry...Patricia

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Eat Local Challenge, Belfast, Maine

My local Food Co-op, one of the main reasons why we live in Belfast, Maine, has challenged it shoppers to the Eat Local Challenge. Here is their description of the challenge which helps people connect to where their food comes from and how many food miles are involved in their eating. Very cleverly the Co-op has marked everything it has for sale in the store that has been grown/produced within one hundred miles of the Co-op.
"The Maine Eat Local Challenge is an opportunity for us, as individuals and communities, to explore what it is like to source our food locally, support our local food growers and suppliers and keep our food dollars in the local economy. For those of us already committed to local food it is an opportunity to see if we can go even deeper in our commitment to eating local"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trick or treacle toffee?


Here is a recipe for the Brit delight, Treacle Toffee, which could in the US be called molasses toffee, but as I love the word treacle so much then treacle it will remain...the word treacle sounds like the sound treacle makes when you stick a spoon in a jar of it and then pull the spoon out....that's a treacle sound! 

Treacle toffee is well known in Blighty for Bonfire/Guy Fawkes night which is coming up soon on November 5th...so make it for Hallowe'en (or All Hallow's Eve or Samhain or...) or next Wednesday! I am not a big fan of treacle/molasses generally, it reminds me of licorice which makes my face crinkle, but there's something about treacle toffee that I really like and I can't quite say what it is, probably the addition of butter, what isn't improved by THAT!!! In Britain I think the best treacle toffee is made by Thornton's , where they have huge trays of it with little hammers to break it up ready for your edification. (Thornton's also do a bazzin' Apricot Parfait...dark chocolate with apricot cream and crystallized-apricot-bits centres!! YUMMY!!!)

I have taken my recipe from the book you see above, 'Farmhouse Kitchen II' which is a treasure trove of good old fashioned British stick-to-your-ribs recipes, I can ALWAYS find something in there I want to make but I do have to admit this recipe is not going to be an exact one as either I don't have the candy-making thing down or my candy thermometer is totally out of whack...regardless here we go with an imprecise recipe!!

INGREDIENTS:

8oz (in weight) molasses/treacle
8oz brown sugar (I'm sure you can use white if that is all you have!)
2oz butter
2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar...does anyone know what the vinegar does?...I've used it in recipes for meringues and I don't know what it's purpose is....
I added a 1/2 teaspoon salt for that nice counterpoint and...
 
1 teaspoon vanilla essence/extract
1.Lump all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan and gradually warm it up to a slow boil, continue boiling gently for about 10 minutes and stir occasionally to prevent sticking and a truly grim burning smell.

2. Raise the heat slowly until a rolling boil is achieved...now here comes the imprecision...the recipe book said to take the temp to 284F but no way was my black sludge getting that hot, I KNOW it would have burnt so I watched the boiling until I could see that mixture getting thicker, stirring all the while to prevent sticking, and occasionally I dripped some of the liquid on a cool surface, in my case the stove top, and when it cooled quickly and could be picked up cleanly from the surface and squashed between my figures without sticking to them and feeling like some warm candle wax I, yes I, decided to take the sludge off the boil, stirred and cooled it til the bubbles subsided then poured it into a VERY well buttered 9" square metal container, at it's hottest the sludge reached about 225f on MY candy thermometer but don't go by that!!

3. Let the candy/sweets cool 'til the surface was setting and then pulled a sharp knife across the surface to mark it for breaking when the toffee was completely set.

When cold I removed said Treacle Toffee from the container and broke, somewhat unevenly I might add, along the marked lines and then wrapped some in small rectangles of unbleached greaseproof paper ready for the hoards of children who will not show at our house tomorrow evening because we live at the end of a quiet road where no-one ever comes!!! Maybe I'll take some into town tomorrow for the progeny of my deserving friends...assuming, of course, that it doesn't all get eaten by ghouls in the night!!

Happy Hallowe'en and November 5th all!!!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Cider colours, cider apples, cider press and cider cake!






SO...from top to bottom we have the field across the road from my house in all it's burnished cider and marmalade colours, apples on the knarled old tree in the back yard, a cider press courtesy of Farmer's Fare, a roasting apple on a stick and cider cake...a quiet, humble little thing...subtle and demure. James and I went down to Rockport to see apples being ground into pulp which was then mercilessly squeezed in the cider press and the resulting delicious nectar was drunk with great relish. I came home and looked in my trusty old cookbooks and found a recipe for Cider Cake in "Traditional Irish Food"...in Gaelic the cake is Ciste ceirlise. I promptly made the cake and here is the recipe...with my own added twist, a play on Britain's favourite Sticky Toffee Pudding.
CIDER CAKE: (I should note here for the Brits reading cider in the U.S. means freshly pressed UNalcoholic apple juice, for the Americans when the Brits and Irish say cider they mean HARD cider...I decided to be contrary to both and I used frozen concentrated apple juice in the cake for extra flavour)
INGREDIENTS:
8oz unbleached flour
pinch of salt
goodly pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4oz butter ( I always use salted butter but you may use unsalted if you so desire!)
4oz fine brown sugar
2 eggs beaten because they have misbehaved in some way
1/4 pint cider (I made up this amount with TWICE the concentrate that the directions said on the frozen concentrate conatiner)
TOPPING:
6 tBsps frozen apple juice
2 1/2oz sugar
1 1/2oz butter (again I use salted...I like that salt tang)
2 tBsps fresh cream
1. Mix dry ingredients together well
2. Cream butter and sugar til very light and fluffy
3. Add beaten eggs bit by bit to prevent curdling
4. Fold in half the flour mix
5. Add the extra strength apple juice, if you only have apple juice you could boil it down for extra flavour.
6. Fold in the remaining flour
7. Spoon mix into a greased and floured 7" shallow cake tin and bake at 325F for about 45 minutes. Leave in cake tin for the next bit!!!
8. TOPPING: Melt brown sugar, butter, cream and frozen apple juice together in a pan....let bubble gently for about 5 minutes until mixture thickens.
9. Light broiler (grill)...pour topping deliciousness over the cake still in the pan and broil until bubbling but NOT burnt, when the cake cools it has a nice crisp top with apple 'goo' round the edges
10. Let cake cool before eating...this cake keeps well, more so if you make it with hard cider which you are welcome to do!!
From THOMAS HARDY'S "THE WOODLANDERS" published 1887
" An apple-mill and press had been erected on the spot, to which some men were bringing fruit from divers points in mawn-baskets (deep, round, coverless two handled wicker baskets) while others were grinding them, and others wringing down the pomace, whose sweet juice gushed forth into tubs and pails......The outskirts of the town were just now abounding with apple-gatherings. They stood in the yards in carts, baskets and loose heaps; and the blue stagnant air of autumn which hung over everything was heavy with a sweet cidery smell. Cakes of pomace (the solid remains of the pressing) lay against the walls in the yellow sun, where they were drying to be used as fuel"
I LOVE the idea of using the pomace as fuel...I bet that would smell good burning in a wood stove!!!



Thursday, October 16, 2008

Belfast Maine 4th Annual Poetry and Art Festival!!




BEGUINAGE REVISITED

by Janet Shea

It is a thirteenth-century beguinage,
a community of holy women--mothers, aunts,
ancestral sisters--tending the sick.
Mary of Oignies, Juliana, Marguerite
shuttle trays of soft food, medicinal tea,
warm milk to the many suffering
souls to be cared for: Old women, children
on cots, restless babies in cribs.
.
Every so often a sister stops to rest, leans
against the banister or door jamb. Mary
of Oignies, weakened by the marks of stigmata,
wipes the back of her hand across her forehead,
swipes a bleeding palm down the sides of her apron.
.
Local friars, arrayed in hooded burlap,
sit on the porch with neighborhood
men in plaid shirts, caps swinging between their knees
all awaiting instructions from the women. The men
were summoned to ward off encroaching disaster,
invasion, a possible flood. Already their boots
are slick with mud. Already the wind howls, rain
pelts the roof, fir trees like old bones creak
in the woods out back.
.
Bonded in time and place, tired of waiting,
the men convene in the cellar. They hammer,
check beams and joists, sandbag the foundation, trace
strategic escape routes on a torn and crinkled
map, vigilant for marauders, heretics, petty thieves.
.
Later, in my grandmother's Victorian, a labyrinth
of hallways and stairs, sisters . . . Patricia,
Virginia, Mary Louise . . . gather at Grammy's
oak table for supper. Overhead, mothers and aunts,
in rooms pungent with the aroma of lavender
and oil-of-wintergreen, settle in bed, side
rails secured, night lights aglow, the Sacred
Heart of Jesus, consoling on the wall. Nearby
children and babies breathe easy, exhaling
in sleep a fragrance of warm milk and honey.
The winds out back coo like a covey of doves,
the rain a soft patter on glass.
.
After supper the eldest cousin retreats
to the pantry, a sudden tumble of disarray.
She puzzles among the monochromatic cache
of mother vessels, dried up and cracked,
chooses a familiar blue bowl, its vanilla
rim chipped, and fills it with pudding.
.
"I enter the circle of holy ones,"
she whispers, returning to the table,
the ancient vessel steady in her hands.
Sisters and cousins, we welcome her with song,
remember in silence the women before us.
.
We tell stories, pass the bowl of abundance,
feast in the mounds of meringue.
White peaks
whipped firm,
but not stiff.

Above is a poem by my good and
delicious friend, Janet Shea, (not a rellie!) which I illustrated with the painting you see at the top of this posting. I decided to make the painting into a shrine to the Sacred Everyday (Sacra Quotidianus) and took some pictorial elements from Janet lovely poem to celebrate this concept. Janet and I decided to call ourselves 'The Two Sheas' and I was so proud to have the painting hung in a gallery here in Belfast with Janet reading the poem aloud to a breathless audience....that was for the very first Belfast Poetry and Art Festival in 2005. With the tireless efforts of Elizabeth Garber, our first Poet Laureate in Belfast and a wordsmith whose poems have been featured not once but thrice on the Garrison Keillor early morning radio spot on NPR, along with the efforts of many other local poets and artists this Festival is now in it's fourth season...do check out the website (see info in righthand column and click there to link to their site) for a listing of venues where this year's poetry will be read and art seen.
The two Angel pictures are from the Belfast Graveyard and I thought they were appropriate to combine with this particular posting. For info on Beguinage click on the title of the poem.
Thank you Janet, you little sweetpea!!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Welsh cakes...again, not cakes....so what are they??




To be honest they are the stuff of legend...honeeest...they are the 'cakes' King Alfred burned, silly man!!!...actually I burned a couple myself so maybe he wasn't so silly!!! They are cakes in the same way a pancake is a cake, to me they taste like fried cookies (biscuits to the Brits reading)...they are sweet and cakey, simple and filling. I can eat them hot with or without butter and find them just as delicious cold when they really do have the sense of cookie about them.

The recipe I used is from an old copy of British Country Living and it has served me very well over the years...it's a great way to start your Thankies Day.

INGREDIENTS:
 
8oz unbleached white flour
 
pinch of salt
 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg ( I like just nutmeg, a highly underappreciated little spice, but traditionally one would do 1/2 tsp of mixed spice (?), is that allspice? and 1/2 teaspoon of mace)
 
4oz cold grated butter, makes it easier to blend into the flour (again in the recipe it asks for 2oz butter and 2oz of white fat but I don't have any lard and don't like hydrogenated fats...so I went for 4oz butter and they were just fine!)
 
3oz sugar...I use fine brown sugar because I like the flavour of brown but you can use white and King Alfred probably used white sugar...or did he...does anyone know what colour the sugar would have been then...maybe they didn't have white sugar in the 14Century...or whenever he lived, I am making an uneducated guess here!)
 
3oz dried currants
 
1 egg beaten...oops I left this out of the ingredients photo, with a tsp of vanilla extract stirred in
Approx. 1 tablespoon of milk.
 
THE PROCESS:
 
1. Sift flour, salt and spices together in a bowl.
 
2. Rub the grated butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs.
 
3. Stir in the sugar and dried fruit.
 
4. Add the beaten egg with a fork.. and just enough of the milk to form a soft dough...it should be a bit sticky.
 
5. Roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness and cut into rounds, or simple shapes. I got too clever for my clogs and used a star cutter and what with the currants they don't keep their shape well, although I still think they look nicely rustic. You may if you so desire omit the currants as I know so may people out there have fear of dried fruit pertaining to nightmare fruit cakes!...I think the recipe should come out just as well and then you can be more fancy with your cutters!
 
6. Heat up your frying pan, preferably a cast iron one, or griddle if you have one to medium heat. Grease with a little butter...remember they have a lot of butter already in them, and try ONE Welsh Cake to get the feel of the pan and heat, just like you would do with a pancake....the first one of which you usually throw away until your get your hand and the pan 'in'...if you know what I mean.
 
7. Cook the Welsh Cakes in small batches...don't crowd the pan, you want to make it easy to turn them over, and cook a few minutes each side until nicely browned but still soft in the middle.
 
8. Get them out of the pan, cut in half horizontally and put a nice pat of butter in there if you so desire. Maple syrup would be a nice addition if you want to gild the lily and do actually make them for Thankies.
 
9. Repeat process multiple times because once you start eating these little treasures, chances are you won't be able to stop.
 
Off you pop and warm up that big lumbering cast iron frying pan!!! Autumn is just the right time for Welsh Cakes...with, of course, a spot of tea...they do go better with tea than coffee.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

More colour...this time from Mother Nature.








As you can see the pictures really speak for themselves! Fall is at full gallop here in Maine and the colours are near peak, I will take more photos as the colour develops and post them here for those of you not lucky enough to see this show in it's true glory. These photos were all taken within half a mile of my house...aren't I lucky!!! In order from top to bottom they are: 'traffic light' maple leaves, Blueberry Hill vista looking towards Blue Hill, a view looking up Blueberry Hill, a field by the house, bees (and their knees) at work on the asters (also known as Michaelmas Daisies...Michaelmas Day being September 29th, oops we missed it, and should properly be named the day of Saint Michael and All Angels, apparently it should be celebrated with a goose for dinner, I assume this means the eating of a goose for dinner and not a goose sitting at the table BUT I DIGRESS........), and lovely pink pee gee hydrangea flowers which will turn pale brown but can be cut and kept all year at that point. Happy Autumn!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blast of colour on a drear Maine day!





On this day of mists (it really is misty out there) and mellow fruitfulness (our neighbour, Tom, did indeed just bring us a pumpkin he had grown) as I look out the window at the occasional dredging downpours from Kyle, is he a tropical storm or a hurricane...THEY haven't decided yet, I felt I needed an eyeball awakening BLAST OF COLOUR! So I put together some pots of paint I am using at the moment, and a few design layouts I have done as small acrylic paintings, to jolly myself along amidst the sogginess of a house with three damp dogs, sticky floors and steamy windows. Here are the photographic results. Hope it's drier where you are! Anyone for tea?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bakewell Tart...it's certainly not cake but is it a pudding, tart or pie?



In typical inimitable British style this dessert recipe is called a pudding because ALL Brit desserts come under the title of ‘pudding’ and this particular one, from the beautiful little northern town of Bakewell, is meant to be consumed after the evening meal, as the ‘pudding’ course, and not for tea in the afternoon when it would indeed be called a tart or pie. Are you confused yet? In texture this pie is somewhat akin to a pecan pie without the nuts. It is dense and moist and actually quite light in flavour. It improves greatly with a day of ‘maturing’ at room temperature, and I highly recommend this, in a trusty metal cake tin and is always eaten cool but not cold (definitely not out of the fridge!!!...bad form I say!!). It is not fussy or elegant but it is a very satisfying Farmhouse recipe especially if you like almond flavoured delights as I do. Here we go with the recipe:

Pate Brisee for the crust...a very reliable and crisp version which keeps well.

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon of salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 stick very cold butter, grated on a box grater

1/8 to 1/4 cup of very cold water

Mix flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add grated butter ( I do all my pastry by hand so grating the butter helps keep things cool for better pastry...of course you can choose to do this in a food processor)....rub the butter into the flour mix until it resembles coarse meal then quickly add in the water by dribbles, I mix with a fork to keep everything cool, and when you think it is wet enough, and it’s always less than you think, quickly and gently ‘sqwoosh’ pastry together until you have a cohesive lump. Put into the fridge for, at the very least, half an hour and preferably longer, to ‘rest’. We all need a rest after this!

Take the pastry out of the fridge and let it warm up slightly before rolling out and lining a glass pie dish 9" diameter. Put back in fridge until ready to be filled.

The filling:
Raspberry jam preferably, strawberry second, anything else you choose third.

4 oz butter melted and slightly cooled

4 oz sugar

4oz roasted and ground almonds...if you are doing the roasting and grinding yourself let the almonds cool COMPLETELY, to get rid of any moisture, before you grind them in a coffee or spice grinder, and grind with equal amounts of the sugar so the mixture doesn’t get sticky.

4 egg yolks

3 egg whites whipped to soft peaks

½ teaspoon almond extract...have you tried the almond extract by ‘Simply organics’, it is the best I have ever tasted.

Putting it all together:
1. Take piecase out of fridge and spread your chosen jam over the bottom...I like just a schmear, others like more...traditionally it is less rather than more.

2. Mix melted butter, almond extract and ground almonds and sugar together til well blended, add egg yolks and blend til smooth and finally add the beaten egg whites gently in batches so as not to deflate the bubbles.

3. Spread mixture over the jam and make sure the jam is sealed around the edges or else it will bubble out in baking.

4. Bake in the middle of a 350 degree oven for about half an hour until the filling is completely set but be careful not to burn the pastry.

Ta dah!! You have yourself a good northern English classic recipe that has been around for hundred’s of years and is still made prolifically in it’s home county of Derbyshire.
Happy Baking...let me know how it comes out! Check this bakewell link out for more info!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

James and I apply to the "Art of Action": Shaping Vermont's future through art



James and I both recently applied for the "Art of Action" competition in Vermont. Above are one of the ten images we each submitted, (is that awful English...I can't tell anymore, but you know what I mean, don't you?) "Gilding the Lily" is mine, it is a watercolour on paper, and the other, "Chinese Poem #1", is James' beautiful oil on panel.

Here is the description of "Art of Action" from their website where the above images are posted for all the wide world to see, how nice is that?

"The Arts Council is collaborating with visionary Vermont entrepreneur and philanthropist Lyman Orton to produce and deliver the ART OF ACTION. This unique project will commisssion ten visual artists to create works that address issues shaping Vermont’s social, political, environmental, and economic future."

Wish us luck on getting through to the next round where we get to formulate an artistic vision of our own for Vermont...sounds like a fun and interesting challenge to me!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Did you know....?

In France when you are having a spot of tea or coffee with your delicious cake, of which there are many wondrous and divine varieties, you may be asked if you would like 'un petit nuage de lait?'......which delightfully translates to "Would you like a little cloud of milk" Isn't that lovely...thank you for that gastronomic piece of trivia Monsieur Thierry Bonneville.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Eccles Cakes!!





I grew up eating Eccles cakes which are not actually cakes but more like flattened mincemeat pies with less filling and more pastry...they are indeed a Northern English delicacy named after the town where they were first baked and their flavour is very reminiscent of a British Christmas. If you don't like dried fruit run away now! Traditionally Eccles cakes are made with flaky pastry but I was too lazy to try my hand at that and ended up using a lovely sweet shortcrust pastry recipe I found in one of my trusty old-fashioned English cookbooks. I have found a wonderful resource for conversion charts from UK to US measurements and also a list of Brit cookery names and terms used on the other side of the Pond at Sue Pallett's website, she has kindly allowed me to feature a link to the site on this blog...thank you Sue!
In the first picture above you see my balance weighing scales, without which I wouldn't be able to bake my British recipes, and the indispensible micro-plane that works like a dream for shaving the zest from lemons and oranges.
Here is the recipe:
SWEET SHORTCRUST PASTRY:
8oz unbleached flour
1/2 level teaspoon of salt
5oz butter that has been in the freezer for about 15 minutes
1 egg yolk
1oz fine/castor sugar
3 teaspoons of water
1. Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl...(is that why they call it a mixing bowl?)
2. Grate butter into the mix...coat the butter in flour before you grate it to make the process easy, then rub the grated butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs...have you guessed by now I do all my baking by hand and don't use machines?...what a pure flower I am.
3. Mix together egg yolk, sugar and water in a seperate bowl...also a mixing bowl perchance?
4. Make a well in the middle of the butter/flour mix, add the liquid mix and blend gently to a firm dough.
As you all know you should keep your hands as cold as possible during the pastry making as pastry dough is very fussy and doesn't like warm hands and will not behave properly if it gets warm in any way!!!
Now the dough is tired and should be left to rest in the fridge until it regains it's strength ready for the next part of the process, a good 20 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.
THE ECCLES FILLING:
1/2lb of currants, sultanas, raisins mixed
2oz finely grated orange and lemon zest (I made the mistake of using chopped peel and my teeth haven't recovered yet, it doesn't soften well in this mix so use the real thing)
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg and allspice together
4oz any kind of sugar
2oz butter
1. Put all the above ingredients into a pan and warm through til butter melts then transfer to a bowl (a mixing bowl?) to cool.
2. Roll out pastry to less than 1/4" thick, I made mine too thick and the cakes were more pastry than filling and it should be the other way around.
3. Cut into 6', no no...6" rounds.
4. Place a good tablespoon of mix in centre, you'll know if you have put too much in 'cos the next step won't work so well...
5. Fold the excess up and over the filling...see above photo...and sqwush the edges til there are no escape holes for the filling to ooze from...this pastry is very malleable so this is easy to do.
6. Turn the 'cake' over and flatten slightly as picture above, slice three lines in the top of each cake to let the steam out whilst cooking or the little beggars will explode...explode may not be the right word but they may split...
7. Wash cakes with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar for fairy dust look.
8. Stick them in a 400F oven for about 20 minutes and Bob's your uncle...you've got yourself some Eccles cakes, also known as Banbury cakes, and Chorley cakes, and Hawkshead cakes and Coventry Godcakes...similar cakes, different shapes impostors all as the Eccles cake is the original and that's that!
As you can see above I made myself a nice spot of Kenyan Bop tea, good and strong, and the Eccles cakes were soon a thing only of pleasant memory.
Happy Baking and let me know how you faired...ta ta!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another kitty on Cafe Press


Here is the second cat illustration to go on my Cafe Press store, it is a Silver Tabby as all you crazy cat lovers out there already know. It is available on t-shirts, mugs, a tote bag etc.....go take a look and treat yourself to something feline!

I think it's time for another recipe, don't you?...check back in a couple of days for something terribly British in the dessert department. I have a couple of wonderful old English recipes books so I shall peruse them on your behalf and come up with something divine you may have never heard of before...til then I will enjoy the unusual glow in the sky here that in other regions of the country is known as the sun....it is due to rain here in Maine YET AGAIN tomorrow evening at which point I may, indeed, completely lose the few marbles I have left!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Exhausted but elated!!







Well James and I managed to place his three metal sculptures at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and here are pics of them in situ as I promised in my last posting. The locations of the three pieces are really great thanks to the foresight of Suzette McAvoy, the show's curator. Have to admit we nearly gave ourselves hernia's placing "Leap, run, leaping" (top photograph) atop the grassy knoll and we were absolutely knackered by the time we were finished, but all is worthwhile in the name of art.........isn't it??? Hope you get the chance to see the sculptures at the gardens, their colours work really well in their respective sites...the red is amazing against the green vegetation, James choose the colour which is the exact complementary opposite wavelength of the green leaves to make the sculptures "jazz" and the blue of "Girl Facing North East" (bottom photograph) is a beautiful complement to the lovely light mushroom of the building trim. Well done James! Now go take a nap!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From Maquette to Metal Sculpture





The top three pictues above are of maquettes James is turning into full size metal sculptures as I type, well not literally...he has passed out after a long slogging day nearing the end of their completion. He made the maquettes to show to Suzette McAvoy who is curating an outdoor sculpture show at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor. The maquettes were approved and now they are being translated into full sized sculptures made of mild steel weighing about 300lbs per piece (believe me I know how much they weigh having helped James drag them around these last few days!!, good job I'm not a wimp!) and ranging in size from 3' to 6' feet in height. The bottom picture is of the sculptures in progress....this picture was taken just before a thunder storm appeared out of nowhere and we had to scramble to drag everything inside before we were vaporized by lightning hitting one of these huge hunks of metal.... ahhh, the exciting life of an artist!!!
I will post pictures of the finished pieces in situ which we are delivering to the gardens this Friday...stand by!