Friday, 9 October 2015

Crispy Or Crumbly?

Autumn is upon us, and friends-with-trees are generously sharing bags of apples with us, and it is time to make Proper Puddings [served with custard – or natural yogurt if I am feeling lazy healthy] But do you make Crumbles, Cobblers, Crisps, Buckles, or Brown Bettys? The Huffington Post had a useful article explaining the differences a few years back. Many people say that the Crisp is the US equivalent of the British Crumble – and that the former contains oats, the latter doesn’t. Personally I disagree, having always put oats in my crumble, but does it really matter if the end result tastes good?

Karen, from Rhode Island, who blogs at SewManyWays shared a recipe for her Apple Crisp recently. This is for a 13 x 9” pan. I used my two large pyrex casseroles and made one to eat, one to keep. I also used some of the blackberries we had picked when Adrian and Marion visited.

Apple mixture

10 cups of apples, peeled, cored and sliced [thats 3lbs worth]

1 cup white sugar

1 Tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup water


1 cup porridge oats

1 cup plain flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarb. of soda

1/2 cup butter (4 oz), melted

Preheat oven to 160ºC fan. Place apples in 13 x 9 pan [or 2 smaller ones] Mix other dry filling ingredients, sprinkle over. Pour over the water. Mix topping ingredients together, spread evenly over fruit mix. Bake at 160ºC for 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.


The verdict; Bob said it was crisper than the crumbles I usually make, and had a pleasant biscuity taste to it. I think the proportion of oats to flour is higher in Karen's recipe. Thanks K for this one.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Trying to Pull The Wool Over Their Eyes?

Campaign For Wool spotted my last post and sent me links to their two Wool Week 2015 video clips - both incredibly short, so I am sharing them here - enjoy!

It’s National Wool Week!

Well, it is if you live in the UK [excepting Shetland, who had it last week!] Discovering this event has left me with so many questions needing answers…Why do people celebrate it at different times around the world ? And how come Prince Charles is the Patron – can he knit? Does Camilla make him cable knit sweaters when they are staying up at chilly Balmoral ?Wool-Week-Date-2015

Tomorrow is Woolly Hat Day [having sent almost all our woolly hats off to Calais, perhaps I’ll wear the lovely blue beret Kezzie sent me]

Woolly Hat Day_blank_poster_A4_10032

I think I must have been on another planet recently, because this one almost passed me by completely. In my defence, all I can say is, I did help with the woolly blankets etc for Romania on Monday [thank you to all those lovely people who have contacted me about contributing to that project] and I have worked on two knitting bits…

P1020333I finally got round to sewing buttons on the BSJ I made in August.

As I am away this weekend, I have started a small knitting project [socks] to take with me if I have any spare time.


The sock pattern is the Web-of-Wool 2-needle one I have been using for years. I did start a 4-needle pattern, but got in a muddle, and decided it was easier to use a familiar pattern if I want to knit and chat at the same time!

These two projects are both in Shades of Grey – reflecting the rather grey weather we are experiencing this week

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Cheap And Cheerful Cake

sues cakeSue, over at The Quince Tree published this excellent recipe earlier  in the week. Apparently it dates from the Depression era in the USA. Like many WW2 cake recipes, it uses bicarb and vinegar in place of eggs. Without the icing, it is a vegan cake.

This makes about 16 pieces depending on how big you cut them! Grease an 8'' (20cm) square or a 9''(22cm) square cake tin with butter, marg or oil. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven)

Mix together in a bowl

  • 1½ cups/9oz/250g plain flour
  • 1 cup/9oz/250g granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ cup/ 1oz/30g/4 tablespoons cocoa powder


  • 1 cup/8fl oz/240ml water
  • ⅓ cup/3fl oz/90ml/ 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar (any will do)

Mix well and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 30-35 mins.  Leave to cool before turning out. Ice if liked once it is completely cool. [Buttercream made with 3oz of butter, 6oz of icing sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk and a dash of vanilla extract]

Sue’s Suggested Variations
To make a plain cake omit the cocoa powder but increase the amount of flour by ¼cup/1oz/30g
Add chopped nuts or a handful of desiccated coconut. Glacé cherries, chocolate chips or dried fruit are other possibilities. Instant espresso powder added to the batter and the icing makes a lovely coffee cake.


Here’s my cake – before I cut it into 16 squares. I replaced one teaspoon of water with a tsp of Camp Coffee Essence, and made my icing with a dash of Camp rather than vanilla . I only used 2oz butter and 4oz of icing sugar, as I didn’t want it to too thick. And I topped it with walnut pieces.

It was really quick and easy to make, using ingredients from the store cupboard. I used the cup measures. The cake turned out beautifully moist. I couldn’t really taste the coffee in the sponge, maybe I should have omitted the cocoa from the sponge and just used flour. The icing was definitely coffee flavoured.

Thank you for this one, Sue!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Cupboard Is Bare!

Since I arrived in Dorset in January, I have been aware of a large walk-in cupboard at the church, which has been filling up with lots of knitted goods. Blankets, baby wear, scarves, hats… “It’s for Romania” I was told. Yesterday I met Jayne Morris, from the Biggin Hill Romania Group, when she came to collect the stuff, ready to ship it out to Romania.

bhrgII  first encountered BHRG 25 years ago, when someone came to speak to our ladies group in the church at Welling. We had a project that summer to make 100 blankets [we ended up with about 140] to go out to these people who were trying to rebuild their lives after the fall of the Ceausescu regime. It is great to be involved again with such a worthwhile project. Here is Shirley showing one of the blankets, surrounded by some of the bags. Alison and Shirley facilitate this project here at UCF, encouraging the knitters and sorting the donations. Here they are either side of Jayne.


The cupboard is bare – we need to start knitting again…

Winter Drawers On…

P1020294…as my grandmother used to say when she got out her thermal underwear. We have been doing some ‘winterising’ in the garden recently. Bob gave the bench and the table a protective coat and then, once dry, swathed the furniture in tarpaulins.

We also did a lot of pruning and cutting back of shrubs. While he painted, I gathered up clippings.


I am afraid we both disliked the huge 6 foot tall cordyline which was taking up the space where we would like to put the sundial. So that got trimmed right back – it will be dug out completely soon.




There were a number of discarded bins which have been filled with prunings. This will be shredded and dealt with later. I got a punnet of blackcurrants from the big bush before that was cut right back

I am hoping for more fruit in 2016 now it has access to more sunlight. My little raised bed has yielded a few smallish beetroot, and lots of escarole for salads. The carrots remain pencil thin. But this has been my best year ever for growing vegetables- considering I just planted all the seeds in my tin [some very old] and did very little else, I think we have harvested about £10 worth of vegetables. It has inspired me to plan better for next year and see what crops I can raise then.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Bilbo Baggins Reaches Bag End

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyHere is Martin Freeman with a bag on his back. We have, at last, come to a sort of Bag End in England- much later than the rest of the UK, and many other countries round the world. The age of automatic free carrier bags is over [I for one shout hallelujah!]


As of today, you won’t be given a plastic carrier bag when you shop [except under certain conditions – see below] You’ll be offered the chance to buy one for 5p [money goes to the retailers- but most are declaring their intent to pass it on to charity] This is to help rid the world of so much waste plastic. Bangladesh started this trend in 2002, because discarded bags were blocking drains. When Wales introduced this system, there was a 71% drop in the use of new bags in one year. It is a good thing all round, I think. BUT you will have to remember to take your own alternatives. Here’s some of mine


For humungous grocery shopping trips, I take my Sainsbury’s boxes. For smaller trips, my cotton bags [all freebies] I usually keep a nylon one [pink IKEA or bizarre Nutella jar] in my handbag – these pack neatly into their own little pouch. Tesco gave me a bag for life on Friday for nothing!

shopping bags

For some purchases – such as live goldfish, raw salmon,  loose pumpkin seeds and axes without a case – you will still be given a bag. Full details are on the government website here. But be careful! If you go into the supermarket and purchase a piece of cod, a lump of root ginger, some loose potatoes, and a ‘living’ pot of basil in soil, you’ll get a free bag – BUT if you buy a bar of chocolate and drop that in the carrier too, you will incur a charge!

shopping trolley trio

Our great-grandmothers never had plastic bags – just baskets, fabric or string bags, and trolleys. I had very little sympathy for the people behind me in the queue last week, who were moaning about the impending charge.


We have no excuse for using and then throwing away all these bags – they are clogging the landfill sites and poisoning our oceans.

How do you carry your shopping home?

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Warning–Yogurt May Cause Headaches!

At our recent Harvest Supper, we had a Food-Themed Quiz, and one round was all about food in the Bible. I discovered that a lot of folk were not very familiar with some of the blood-and-guts Old Testament stories. Including the one about Jael and Sisera, from Judges 4.Sisera was commander of the Canaanite army, and was fleeing from Barak, commander of the Israelites
After the battle…Sisera ran away to the tent of Jael. She went out to meet him and said, “Come in, sir; come into my tent. Don't be afraid.” So he went in, and she hid him behind a curtain.He said to her, “Please give me a drink of water; I'm thirsty.” She opened a leather bag of milk, gave him a drink, and hid him again. Then he told her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if anyone comes and asks you if anyone is here, say no.” Sisera was so tired that he fell sound asleep. Then Jael took a hammer and a tent peg, quietly went up to him, and killed him by driving the peg right through the side of his head and into the ground. When Barak came looking for Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come here! I'll show you the man you're looking for.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera on the ground, dead, with the tent peg through his head. That day God gave the Israelites victory
My Dad taught me about Jael, and said that probably in the hot climate, the ‘milk’ would probably have been yogurt, or a cottage cheese type product – they did not have pasteurisation or fridges back then.
P1020247I suppose it isn’t the sort of thing most children are told as a bedtime story these days, is it?  In Victorian times, children learned Bible stories as a matter of course – and artists and sculptors used these tales as inspiration for their work.
When we visited the Russell Cotes Museum the morning after our Harvest Supper, we found that lots of the artwork was related to Bible stories.
We were both ridiculously pleased to see a marble statue of Jael among the exhibits.
Here she is, standing on her plinth, with a jug in her right hand – inviting Sisera to come and hide in the tent and take a rest. Very tempting…
But why is Bob pointing at her left hand? What can he see that we can’t?
Look at the back of the sculpture
Look! she is sneakily concealing a tent peg in the folds of her robe.
We both thought it was a fabulous statue. But probably not appropriate for display in the Manse garden.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A is for Acorn, B is for Badger, C is for Conker…

OJDThere was a lot of fuss [and rightly so, imho] earlier this year, about changes to the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Around 400 words related to nature were omitted, including acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, willow [and even almond!] The humble blackberry was replaced by Blackberry [TM].


For years, I have taught in schools where most classrooms have had a copy or two of this book on the shelf – and half a dozen more in the school library. Various wordsmiths – including Michael Morpurgo, Margaret Attwood and Andrew Motion, lamented the departure of these words. As well as nature words, others have gone which relate to traditional British tradition and culture. Oxford Dictionaries say there isn’t room for the ‘archaic’ words when there are so many new ones to put in – but this seems to contradict their logo [below]. Do we really need to remove bishop and monarchy to make room for blog and broadband? Or conker for cut-and-paste?

OED logo


Along my cycle route to church this week, I saw acorns and pinecones lying on the verge, and school- children collecting them, and also looking up at the horse chestnut trees about to drop their conkers.

Kingfisher_by_Jack_3449432cBut this week, news comes that someone has taken action to keep these words somewhere special for children to learn and appreciate them. Robert MacFarlane, a gifted writer, who is passionate about ‘land language’ [read his fabulous article from the Guardian] has produced his first book for children which features flora and fauna language which is falling out of use. Jackie Morris has worked with him to illustrate the book.

The book is intended to counter an obsession with technology, the indoor lifestyle, and the fashion for "urban dystopia" in children's literature and films like The Hunger Games.


Macfarlane says “The deletion of these vital words from the OJD isn’t the dictionary’s fault -- but our own for failing to use them.

“Technology is miraculous – but so is nature, and Jackie and I wanted to find a way to release these simple wonder-words back into their stories and their dreams.”

robert macfarlaneThe Lost Words: A Spell-Book will be published by Hamish Hamilton in Spring 2017. That seems like ages – but I think this is one which will be worth waiting for!