In a Vase on Monday: Lemon Star

When I walked into my dining room this morning I knew something was not quite right. It was only later, while having breakfast, that I noticed that the first of my Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) to flower this winter was bent over at a dangerous angle threatening to uproot the bulb and put the second bud at risk. So I cut it immediately and put it in a tall vase. Then I realised it is not only Boxing Day, but also Monday – serendipity! I have a vase to share with you after all!

‘Lemon Star’

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A neighbour gave me this bunch of red Amaryllis which are also lovely and cheerful on my windowsill.

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Do take a look at some of the other festive vases posted for Cathy’s meme on Rambling in the Garden.

🙂

A Very Happy Christmas!

The beautiful countryside around us has been shrouded in thick fog and covered in layer upon layer of frost for most of December. When I heard the lovely carol “In the bleak mid-winter” the other day I found it quite apt to describe our surroundings here – the earth is hard as iron (although it has thawed a little in places in the last 24 hours) and the water in the bird bath is hard as stone again. But no snow still. (Sigh)

So I’m afraid I cannot post any pretty photos of frost covered pine trees, glittering in the sun with a blue sky beyond…. but I can offer a glimpse of our black and white world instead.

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And I can wish you all a very Happy Christmas too!

I hope you have the opportunity to relax over the holidays, spend time with loved ones, read a good book or just chill out in front of a warm fireplace with a hot mug of tea…

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Many warm wishes to you all!

😀

 

In a Vase on Monday: Sugar and Lemons

Tomorrow is Pancake Day in the UK, and although the tradition of eating thin crepe-style pancakes on Shrove Tuesday does not seem to exist anywhere else in the world I have always made them wherever I have been – even when I lived in Japan I had a pancake party!

The traditional topping for these pancakes is lemon juice and sugar. Yes, there are plenty of other things you can put on your pancake, but not on Pancake Day. You can have maple syrup, nutella, bananas, etc any time of year. But tomorrow it’s simply lemon juice and sugar; the inspiration for the title for my vase this week…

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Every Monday I join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden with her lovely meme where we are asked to find something from our garden and bring it indoors. Two days ago my first golden (lemony) crocus opened (Yippee!), so I knew I would have to bring some indoors.

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The tiniest ‘vase’ I could find was a miniature salt sellar, and since I had two I decided to pick a few (sugary) snowdrops too, which also immediately opened once brought into the warm house. There are only a few – most are still too small to pick.

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But these are not the only flowers I have this week. About three weeks ago I cut some Ribes sanguineum, remembering that when it is forced the normally deep pinky red flowers are white. In the course of the last week they have opened…

And another Amaryllis opened two days ago too – Amaryllis ‘Blossom Peacock’. A real beauty with a lovely straight stem.

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I shall do a round-up of all my Amaryllis/Hippeastrums once they have all flowered. So far I have had one or two flowering constantly since November. 🙂

Until Friday it had rained practically all week, so having flowers indoors is very cheering. I am looking forward to seeing a few more of my spring bulbs emerge this week, but first I am looking forward to my pancakes tomorrow. What will you have on yours? Sugar and lemon juice?

😉

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?

 

 

Reading the Signs: Verbascum thapsus

This summer was extremely hot and dry, and I found myself scouring various weather forecasts in my hope for a few drops of rain. Our weather forecasts are usually pretty accurate here, as we are quite far inland, and not directly near any mountain ranges. But long-term weather forecasting is trickier… unless you talk to Mr Sepp Haslinger, a pensioner from the south of Bavaria, who reads the signs of the Verbascum seedheads….

Verbascum

Native to Europe, commonly known in the UK as Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus can grow to up to 2 metres tall. The flowerheads start setting seed at the base, while the tops continue to grow and flower. By examining the development of these seadheads and flowers from the base upwards, Sepp Haslinger predicts the weather for the coming winter.

Mr Sepp Haslinger: “The man who knows what the winter will be like”

Königskerzen, Wetterkerze, Vorhersage, Schnee, Winter

The Verbascum is commonly called “King’s Candle” in German (Königskerze), but another common name here in Bavaria is “Weather Candle” (Wetterkerze) as it has been used for predicting the weather for centuries. Loose infloresences apparently indicate snow-free periods, while particularly long specimens with many flowers can suggest winters with a lot of snow.

Over the past four years Mr Haslinger’s forecasts have been accurate, and local snow clearing services rely on him for deciding on whether to set on extra employees or how much salt and grit to order for spreading on roads. This year they are doubling their orders, as Mr Haslinger has predicted a “winter of the century” with more snow than we have seen in a long time… the first snowfall is “definitely in mid-October”, and “abundant”!

(I’m glad I have got most of my bulbs planted – I must tie up the Miscanthus next in preparation!)

Here he is, reading his Verbascum on the Catholic holiday – the Feast of Assumption – in early August – I’m afraid there is no translation as his dialect is rather hard to understand even for me, but do take a look to get the general idea how he does it!

The 73-year-old weather prophet, who jokingly admits he would have been burnt at the stake as a witch a few centuries ago, says that it will not only be a very snowy winter this year, but also a very long one, with snow sticking around until Easter 2016. There will be periods inbetween with less or no snow, but Advent will be white – good news for the Christmas markets and the hot mulled wine stands – although Sepp warns them to strengthen the rooves of their booths! The winter equinox and Christmas will probably be milder, but in the New Year it will turn cold and snowy once again. All in all it will be “a hard winter”.

(Not really what I wanted to hear, but we will see!)

😉

Have you heard of any unusual ways of predicting weather?

 

Fancy Little Cakes

I have made quite a few new dishes in the last couple of months, but either haven’t got any good photos yet or am still tweaking the recipes. This recipe, however, turned out perfect first time, and the sun even came out for some photos too.

French Fancies, Fondant Fancies or Petits Fours… whatever you fancy calling them, these little cakes are scrumptious!

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Ooh la la!

Sweet bites of buttery sponge cake, with a strawberry jam and buttercream filling, a thin layer of marzipan on top, and then icing drizzled over each individual little cake. Top with decorations of your choice and this would be a fabulous treat for Easter weekend, afternoon tea, or any spring gathering. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, make them with children/grandchildren and make a lovely sticky mess with all that coloured icing!

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I didn’t put the buttercream all round the edges as the original recipes say, nor did I put a blob of it on top. I also had no luck finding fondant icing sugar in my local stores, so I used normal icing sugar instead; even if they aren’t perfectly coated in a smooth layer of fondant I still think they look irresistible. So can I still call them Fondant Fancies? Probably not. But I think Fancy Little Cakes describes them well enough!

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They are actually a LOT easier to make than they look, but you do need a bit of time to assemble them in advance. I made the cake the evening before and did the filling and decorating the next morning – it took me about an hour (plus extra washing-up time!).

For the cake you will need:

  • 175g (6 oz) butter, softened
  • 175g (6 oz) sugar
  • 3 free-range organic eggs
  • 175g (6 oz) SR flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2-3 tbsps milk
  • 20cm (8 inch) square baking tin

Grease and flour your baking tin and preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer and then add the eggs, one by one, mixing in each well. Sieve the flour and raising agents and then fold in to the batter carefully with a metal spoon. You may need to add the milk now, to achieve a “dropping” consistency, so the batter just about drops off a spoon. Pour it into your cake tin and even it out. Bake for about 25 minutes until firm to the touch and golden brown. You can test it by sticking a toothpick in the middle – if it comes out clean the cake should be done.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely and then trim the edges so they are straight. Wrap in clingfilm and chill. (I left it in the fridge overnight).

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For the filling and topping you will need:

Buttercream – 75g (5 tbsps) butter, softened and 150g (1 and 1/5 cups) icing/powdered sugar, sieved

Strawberry jam

225g (8 oz) marzipan

Icing: 400g (3 and 1/5 cups) icing sugar, sieved and food colouring of your choice

Decorations: sugar flowers, sprinkles, mini eggs, let your imagination free run!

Cut through the cake horizontally so you have two layers. Spread the lower layer with strawberry jam. Beat the butter and icing sugar for the buttercream until soft and fluffy (you can add a drop of milk if necessary), then spread this over the strawberry jam. Put the top layer of the cake back on. Spread a little jam on the top, just enough to make the surface sticky. Roll out the marzipan to the shape of the cake and place this on top of the cake. Trim the edges and place on a large piece of clingfilm. Now mark lightly with a knife where you want to cut the cakes – I divided mine into 5 across, 5 down, so I had 25 little squares. Cut through with a sharp knife and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least half an hour.

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Now make the icing by mixing very little warm water with the 400g of icing sugar, a drop at a time, until you have a thick pouring consistency. Divide into different dishes if you are using different food colours. This is the fun bit! Use a spoon to dribble the icing over each cake. Place them on a cooling wrack with a tray beneath it to catch the drips. Put your decorations on while the icing is still tacky. Once the icing has set a little you can put the cakes on a plate and place in the fridge to firm up.

Just before serving, put them in little cupcake cases.

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This was something I had wanted to make for ages, and I really enjoyed it, despite the sticky fingers!

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Happy Baking!

😀

Little Coffee and Walnut Cakes

In the colder months of the year a little indulgence is allowed, don’t you agree? And coffee flavoured buttercream is most definitely that; a luxurious indulgence.

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This cake is apparently British in origin, and when I was young my Mum used to make it using Camp coffee essence… not sure if that is still readily available, but my recipe uses a good dose of instant (decaffeinated) coffee granules and is just as good.

I decided to use my mini sponge cake tin instead of two normal 20cm sponge tins. This meant I could easily freeze half, without the buttercream, for another day. 🙂

Little Coffee and Walnut Cakes

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You will need either two 20cm sponge cake tins, greased and floured, or a mini sponge cake tin – mine makes six which are then sliced through the middle horizontally. You could of course make cupcakes in a muffin pan too, but you’ll need less buttercream then I think.

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 175g (1 and 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 125g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 50g (1/4 cup) brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsps instant coffee granules dissolved in 2 tbsps hot water
  • 175g (1 and 2/5 cups) self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 75g (a good 1/2 cup) chopped walnuts
  • 2 – 3 tbsps milk

Ingredients for the buttercream filling/topping:

  • 110g (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 220g (1 and 3/4 cups) icing sugar
  • 3 tsps instant coffee granules dissolved in 3 tsps hot water
  • a few walnuts for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

For the cake, dissolve the coffee first, so it can cool. Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the coffee and then gently fold in the flour with a metal spoon. Finally stir in the chopped walnuts. Now you need to have a soft mixture that will just about drop off a spoon – add the milk to reach the right consistency. Divide between your cake tins and then bake for about 25 minutes. Check the middle is done with a cocktail stick or something similar, as it may need a few more minutes. When cooked, leave in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the buttercream, prepare your coffee first again, so it can cool. Then just beat the butter and icing sugar together until creamy, and then mix in the coffee. (I only made half the amount for three mini cakes as I wasn’t sure if you can freeze buttercream. Has anyone tried that?)

When the cakes are completely cool, spread the buttercream over the base and place the other half on top. Then use the remaining buttercream for decoration on the top, adding a few walnut halves/quarters too.

These are just as delicious with a cup of tea as they are with coffee!

Enjoy!

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What foods do you like to indulge in during the winter months?

😉