Christmas Cookies: Linzer Cookies (Vegan)

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A novelty twice over for me – not only are they the first Linzer Cookies I have ever made, they are also my first vegan Christmas cookies – and I am absolutely delighted with the results!

I must give all the credit for the recipe to a wonderful vegan cook and baker, Stina Spiegelberg. Her blog Vegan Passion is also written partly in English, so please do go and visit her. Even better, if you know some German then buy one of her books. I bought her Vegan Xmas cookbook recently and have tried her delicious non-cheese “cheescake” (Zupfkuchen) already too.

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Stina, you have made my first vegan Christmas a delight!

Linzer Cookies

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  • 4-5cm round cookie cutter and small cookie cutters for the centres
  •  460g (3 and 3/4 cups) wholemeal (spelt) flour
  • 80g (1/2 cup) ground hazelnuts
  • 100g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 250g (about 2 sticks and 2 tbsps) vegan butter
  • 4 tbsps soya milk
  • 200g (7 oz) raspberry jam/jelly (I prefer the seedless jelly 😉 )

Mix all the ingredients together except for the jam. Add the soya milk at the end as you bring the dough together to form a smooth ball. Then chill it for at least 30 minutes, wrapped in clingfilm.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F and line large baking trays with greaseproof paper. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 3mm thickness. Cut out circles using a 4-5cm cookie cutter. In half of the circles cut out tiny hearts, stars etc from the centre. You are aiming to make about 50 cookies.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t let them get too brown! Let them cool on a rack and then spread the jam over the bottom halves and gently press the top halves onto them. You need about a third to a half a teaspoon per cookie.

The jam filling does mean that they go a little soft after a day or two, but they still taste wonderful and can be kept for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin.

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Have you done any Christmas baking yet?

 

 

Book Review: Flora Poetica: The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse

Flora Poetica: The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse

Selected, Edited and with an Introduction by Sarah Maguire

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Recently this book featured as a prop in my “In a Vase on Monday” post, and I realized I had not reviewed it although I have had it for several years now.

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This collection of poetry is the second favourite in my book shelf (my first favourite is the New Dragon Book of Verse which I learned to love in my school days!), and it often gets an airing, not just in winter.

The poems are all about plants, and they are (in my opinion!) all wonderful… in very different ways. Perhaps I haven’t read every single one, but there are many I have read over and over again. One seasonal example is Louise Glück’s “Snowdrops”, which I find very moving. Here’s an excerpt…

… I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

Snowdrops February 2014

Snowdrops last spring

The book is divided rather unusually into botanical families, which means that I have learnt a few things while thumbing through it. Did you know, for example, that forget-me-nots are in the same family as borage? I suppose some of you did, as you are all so knowledgeable, but I had never given it much thought! We are taken through over 50 different botanical families such as the  Maple and the Beech, the Onion, Arum, Lily, Beech, Spurge and Olive, and many of the poems have a note on the botanical name of the plant, tree or flower that is the subject. The sections vary in length; families like the Vine have only one, while the Rose section has over 40. One of my favourites in the Rose section is Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose”, and here are the first and last verses

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose….

… Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

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 Another surprising element of this anthology is to read one poem from, say, the 17th century and then the next one is from the 20th century. For example, Robert Herrick’s poem “To Daffadills”  is followed by Sylvia Plath’s “Among the Narcissi”. Then the first line of the 1998 James Reiss poem “Lily” reads “Went out & scissored a lily…” and on the opposite page we read “White though ye be; yet, Lillies, know…” in Robert Herrick’s “How Lillies Came White” from 1648. These juxtapositions are fascinating, unexpected and work very well.

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It is also fascinating to see the way certain plants, such as the rose, have captured the romantic imagination over centuries. Symbols and human desires have changed very little over time, even though the countryside in which they grow has altered dramatically. John Clares idyllic images of rural England in the early 19th century demonstrate this time and again with his references to meadows, wheatfields and cattle grazing. There are quite a few of his poems here; with his eye for detail and his passion for the countryside he tended to focus frequently on individual plants.

And then having Sylvia Plath next to Ted Hughes, or John Clare (“The Wheat Ripening”) next to Vikram Seth (“Evening Wheat”) is, quite simply, very enjoyable reading.

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There are many writers in here I did not know before, from all over the globe, and I have been encouraged to look for more of their work. But then there are also the lovely old English familiars; Thomas Hardy, John Donne, W.B.Yeats, William Wordsworth, D.H. Lawrence, etc.

The book has an index of the poems under the botanical families, as well as an index of poets, one of titles AND one of first lines. There is also a nice introduction by Sarah Maguire, a poet herself, who composed this anthology. She describes how and why she gathered so many poems on flora and gives a few details of what she was unable to include, as well.

If you love plants, botany and poetry you will most definitely like this book!

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Click on this picture for a link where you can buy Flora Poetica

A final note: the name “Chatto” in the title refers to the publishers Chatto and Windus, an imprint of Random House. I thought there must be a connection to Beth Chatto so looked this up and found out that the founder of this publishing house in 1873 was actually Beth Chatto’s father-in- law. Curiosity satisfied!

In a Vase on Monday: Earthly Joys

I look forward to Mondays these days… Searching my garden for something attractive to put in a vase for Cathy’s meme has become quite a ritual, although I must admit to sometimes doing this a day early.

Today I carried my little vase through the house to the lightest room, my fingers still numb from the cold, and as I opened the door there lay the book I have been intending to read for some time now: “Earthly Joys” – the perfect title for my post!

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This is the same Hellebore from my patio pot that I used two weeks ago, and I found the label. It seems I mixed up the names of this and my Amaryllis/Hippeastrum – the Amaryllis is not Christmas Star as I had thought, but “Bolero”. The Hellebore is “Christmas Star”.

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I added a few sprigs of box, some laurel, Euonymous, Vinca and Carex, and a few red Heuchera leaves.

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Despite our lack of sunshine in January, I did manage to find a light spot for the photo. Have you noticed how the days are getting longer ?

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Sun of joy, and pleasure’s light,
All were lost in gloom of night.
Night so long, with tears and sorrow–
Hearts might break ere broke the morrow.
Day so short and night so long–
Fled the bird and hushed the song.
But, my heart, look up, be stronger,
For the days are growing longer. “

from “Now the Days are Growing Longer” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Take a look at Cathy’s site “Rambling in the Garden” where she has presented her beautiful white Amaryllis today.

And many others have linked in with their own creations too. Why not join in?!

😀

 

Book Review: The Knot, by Jane Borodale

“Knowledge should run freely between men and women, readily available to those who care to know…”

(Henry Lyte, in “The Knot”)

(Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Henry Lyte was  a British botanist, living in the 16th century. He became well known for his translation of Rembert Dodoens’ “Cruydeboeck” – a register of mainly herbs and medicinal plants which was translated by other famous botanists into French and Latin as well as other languages. Other botanists around this time were Carolus Clusius (who gave Gentiana clusii its name), John Gerard (Geradia), John Tradescant (Tradescantia), or Mathias de l’Obel (Lobelia).

This novel is a fictional account of his life with his family on the Somerset Levels in the west of England.

“The Knot”, by Jane Borodale

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While raising a large family, managing an estate, fighting a lawsuit by his father’s second wife for possession of his ancestral home, and creating a garden, Henry Lyte is also busy translating a botanical masterwork into English – a long process involving hours of dedicated and meticulous concentration, that will be of monumental importance to those who, in Elizabethan England, are unable to pay a physician and need information on medicinal plants in the English language. Henry dreamed: “Imagine a world where good health is a universal possibility!”

As the story slowly unravels, with Henry’s second wife Frances taking trouble in settling in, and the loss of several children to illness, we sense a secret regarding the death of his first wife, Anys. The sense of anticipation lasts throughout the book, though not affecting the gentle pace of rural life and the methodical progress of his work. In fact the tranquility of the garden and the down-to-earth gardener who always seems to be present seem to emanate peace and harmony, counterbalancing the annoyance Henry feels about his wife’s lack of interest in his garden, and his step-mother’s claim to his home.

Henry loves his garden and plants above everything it seems… One evening his wife refuses to accompany him to view the madonna lilies, so he goes out alone:

“He bends his head and breathes deeply. If only more men would take the chance to drink in the smell of lilies in the night in June, he thinks. There can be nothing so delicious. Nothing that could make a man so contented. He feels dizzy with love and tenderness for his garden. Above him is the clicking of bats, and a pale moth looms and flutters near the grass. He tilts his face to the moon and closes his eyes to its whiteness, bathes in its unflinching gaze. The air is warm. He feels enveloped, cupped between the sky and the earth…”

The passing of seasons and the constant references to plants and herbs growing in the marshy surroundings or in his own garden drew me into the story. As did the disparity between Henry’s love of nature and mankind, and his unintentional negligence to the needs of his family. He can, however, give his seeds and beans his absolute attention. On inspecting them he sees:

“… they are all – he feels quite overwhelmed with the sheer mass of them – waiting… And the promise they contain. These things seem dead, and yet… A few drops of water, the enclosing dark earth with minerals, the warmth of sunlight; and each of these dessicated, mummified little bits of toughness will hydrate, fatten and burst into vivid miraculous sweet shoots, climbing, sinewing towards the light.”

This book is not a masterpiece, but a gentle and enjoyable read. I personally felt that the storyline was lacking, but the journey through Henry Lyte’s life is pleasurable and calming. Little drama, hardly suspense, but I am glad I read it and would recommend it to anyone interested in the earlier pioneering botanists. The age in which he lived was so much slower and life was harder. The connection to the earth had to be suppressed where prayer was considered the only connection necessary:

“He wonders whether there has been any rigorous scientific study of the effects of spring on nature and man, and even idly toys with the idea of making some notes towards this himself… not as a counter to the truth of God, of course, but rather as an observational study of what actually occurs.”

Henry Lyte, sadly, does not appear to have had any plants named after him. Had he sacrificed the peace of the countryside for London he may have had more success and renown, but he is depicted here as a lover of plants and the earth above all, who hated travelling to the city…

~~~

So, if your reading list is not too long already, here’s another book to add!

😀

What IS a Garden?

I am reading a lovely novel at the moment about a botanist in 16th century Somerset (The Knot, by Jane Borodale).

I will write a review of it very soon, as I’m sure it will be of interest to many of you gardeners out there, but I have to share these lines from it today!

When asked by a botanist colleague what his garden is: “So if it is not a work of art, what do you call it?”

Henry Lyte replied:

“A garden is a deliberate gathering together of living things, partially governed.”

I think that sums it up perfectly!

Definition of a Garden

What do you think?

Winter Reading

This hasn’t been a year for reading for me; partly a matter of time, but also because I have been struggling for months(!) with a novel I was determined to finish before starting something else. I failed! I’m still reading the novel: “The Cider House Rules” by John Irving, but have also started some short stories by Lydia Davis, along with some other short fiction.

The best book I’ve been reading recently was this:

Casting Shadows

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This is a collection of short stories, published by Word Machine Press, from new writers who developed them as part of their MA course in Professional Writing. These stories were immediately singled out for publishing.

Fancy a good chilling read by the warm fireplace this winter? You will feel your spine tingling, shivers on your goosebumps, your hair standing on end! Each of the eight ghost stories will draw you in making you feel as if you are really there. You can’t put this book down in the middle of a story. However, each is just a few pages long, and if time is short you could fit one in over lunch. You’ll be hooked though, and impatient to read the next! I found these writers all succeeded in making their stories very vivid, and very real… I am reminded of Roald Dahl’s “Tales of the Unexpected”, with a twist at the end – at times almost expected but not always.

An extra point – the illustrations are also remarkable.

The reason I chose this book was one of the writers, Danielle Charles. Danielle has a blog called

The Teacup Chronicles

which was the first blog I ever followed, two years ago. Since then I have taken much pleasure in her moving tales and prose, and her delicious natural recipes. There is something magical about the way she writes, and her photographs are also always a delight.

I hope you will drop by her blog, or even better – buy the book!

~~~

Another book I’m dipping into at the moment is also a collection of (relatively) short stories and writings, this time by an old favourite: Charles Dickens, and his Christmas stories in

Dickens at Christmas

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Of course, “A Christmas Carol” is in there, which I re-read at least partly every December. But you will also find all the Christmas Books as well as many other Christmas themed tales.

I particularly enjoyed the first story “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” from “The Pickwick Papers”. A miserable grave-digger is kidnapped on Christmas Eve and shown the error of his ways, in a similar way to Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. This time it isn’t ghosts that “spirit” the character away, but a group of rather violent goblins…

There are several very short stories, and a few slightly longer. Perfect for selecting some reading for half an hour or a whole afternoon. Another attraction of this book is its binding and cover. If you are going to look at a book again and again, it has to be a hardback, and my Christmas Carol paperback was beginning to look a bit scruffy. This version is well bound and the cover is very seasonal. A classic.

So, what have you been reading recently? Any tips?

😀

Red Velvet Cake

My favourite niece (okay I’ve only got one, but she’s still my favourite!) gave me a sweet book for my birthday… with a sweet title too: “Sweet Tooth” by Lily Vanilli. I had never heard of Lily before, but apparently her bakery in London is rather famous…

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I chose this recipe simply because it looked pretty, and I’d been wondering what is so special about this cake – I have seen so many recipes for red velvet cake, but had never eaten a piece. Until now.

Yummy! It’s really smooth, and most definitely velvety. It’s also only slightly chocolatey, not too sweet, and the colour is very attractive too. But you can easily leave out the food colouring as the texture is, I think, the best thing about it!

Red Velvet Cake

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This is Lily Vanilli’s recipe, not at all adapted! (Buy her book!)

  • 115g butter
  • 280g (caster) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsps red food colouring
  • 325g plain flour
  • 30 cocoa powder
  • 250ml buttermilk
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • 2 round cake tins or muffin pans and/or mini cake tins (I had six mini cakes and four muffins from this quantity)

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease/line baking tins.

Cream butter and sugar together for about 4 minutes with an electric mixer. It should be really smooth. Then add in the eggs and continue mixing. Add the food colouring and mix to combine. Sift the flour and cocoa together and add half to the mixture. Beat agin until just incorporated. Now beat in the buttermilk. Then add the rest of the flour/cocoa. Beat in, but don’t overmix.

Now the funny part – mix the bicarbonate of soda with the vinegar in a separate dish and watch it fizz! Pour over the batter and carefully fold it in – don’t beat it!

Divide between your pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on the tins you are using. (Use a toothpick to check if the middle’s done). Cool on a rack before decorating. If you’re making a cake the filling is up to you. Lily recommends cream cheese frosting. I just plopped a little whipped cream or creme fraiche with a raspberry on top!

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Have you ever had red velvet cake before?