Archive for March, 2013

Easter Simnel Cake

As it is Easter I have made a Simnel cake.  Wickipedia tells us that Simnel cakes have been known since at least the medieval time. They would be eaten on the middle Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (also known as Refreshment Sunday, Mothering Sunday, Sunday of the Five Loaves, and Simnel Sunday), when the forty day fast would be relaxed. More recently, they became a Mothering Sunday tradition, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their day off. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour. Somehow the tradition moved to Easter and now Simnel cakes are representative of Easter.

Conventionally eleven marzipan balls are used to decorate the cake, with a story that the balls represent the twelve apostles, minus Judas. They used to also be decorated with flowers, but I have modernised mine to decorate with chicks and little chocolate eggs.

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This is the recipe I used as a basis for my cake.

Easter Simnel cake

Ingredients

175g/6oz light muscavado sugar

175g/6oz butter, softened

175g/6oz self raising flour

3 large eggs

2 tbsp milk

25g/1oz ground almonds

100g/4oz sultanas

100g/4oz cherries, quartered, washed, and dried

100g/4oz dried apricots, snipped into small pieces

100g/4oz stem ginger, finely chopped

(I just used 425g of mixed fruit that I had in the cupboard, so I used dried sour cherries, cranberries, raisins, dates and apricots)

1 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp ground ginger

To top the cake

450g/1lb golden marzipan

3 tbsp apricot jam

1 egg, beaten

To decorate

little chicks, little Easter eggs, marzipan balls

Preparation method

 1. Preheat oven 160C/320F/Gas 3.

2. Grease and line the base and sides of an 20cm/8in deep, round cake tin with baking parchment.

3. Cream the butter and sugar and gradually add the eggs and milk. Fold in the flour and all the dried fruit and mix well. Place half the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.

4. Take one third of the marzipan and roll into a circle the same size as the cake tin, place the circle on top of the cake mixture. Spoon the remaining mixture on top of the marzipan and level the surface.

5. Bake for about 1 3/4 to 2 hours or until golden brown and firm in the middle. If toward the end of the cooking time the cake is getting too brown, loosely cover with a piece of foil. Allow the cake to cool in the tin before turning onto a cooling rack.

6. When the cake is cool. Brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam. Roll out half the remaining marzipan to the size of the cake and sit it on the top. Crimp the edges of the marzipan. Make 11 even sized balls from the remaining marzipan and arrange around the edge.

7. Brush with beaten egg and glaze under a hot grill for about 5 minutes, turning the cake round so it browns evenly, so the marzipan is tinged brown all over. (You can also do this with a blow torch if preferred).

8. Decorate as required, I used little chicks and chocolate eggs

30 mins to 1 hour preparation time

1 to 2 hours cooking time

Serves 6-8

Adapted from Mary Berry From Saturday Kitchen

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Comments (4)

The Candlelight by Candlelight

It was bitterly cold this morning but before breakfast the power was tripping off and on several times.  I managed to cook us scrambled eggs on toast and then the power went off completely.  We went to get the paper and then made ourselves a hot coffee using the kettle on the woodburning stove.  After reading the paper for a while we decided the best thing to do in a power cut was go down the pub!!

When we got there they too had a power cut and had lit several candles around the place, quite appropriate for a pub called “The Candlelight”.

We found out from Western Power that there was a problem with a transformer down at Keats Farm in Bishopswood, and as we drove to the pub we saw the men up the telegraph pole working on the problem. Most of the cables are overhead cables here in Somerset, so occasionally there are problems. We were told the power should be back on by 1.30pm.

We settled down on a sofa near the woodburner, only to be accosted by the owners new 15 month old Labrador called Poppy.  Poppy was a rescue dog who had been very overweight as she had not been walked much and fed too much.  The pub owners had had her now for 5 weeks and she had already lost some weight and gained some muscle mass.  She was very friendly and really took to us.

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We enjoyed sitting in the warmth with our drinks and talking to other locals about the power cut.  The pub had lost all its lunchtime meal trade as they couldn’t cook without electricity. (There is no mains gas in our villages).

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At about 1.35pm the lights came back on and there was a huge cheer in the pub.  We were lucky the power was not off for longer as it would have made cooking the roast dinner impossible this evening!!

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Mad British Spring weather

We have just sat outside to have lunch in glorious sunshine.  The sky is bright blue and there is hardly a cloud in it.  Yesterday afternoon it was snowing quite hard.  What a contrast.

This morning when I let the hens out it was minus 3 degrees.  Now it is 7 degrees, that’s 10 degrees difference just in a few hours.

The Spring bulbs are responding to the sunshine.  This is one of our half moon baskets by the front door. Even the Hyacinth is popping its head up now.

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The Daffs are all out.

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And the little Tete a Tete daffs make a fine display in one of our pots.

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I’d love this weather to continue but they have forecast rain for tomorrow, so better make the most of it today and go and clean the chickens out!!

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Big chook becomes a rooster

When we hatched our chicks last July we had no idea if they were hens or cockerels.  I thought we would find out pretty soon on, both developed along the same lines and in spite of looking up how to sex baby chicks on the interenet I could not tell.

Then gradually one chick started to grow larger than the other and I thought maybe this one will become a rooster, but there were no tell tail signs.  When they were large enough we integrated them into the existing flock and both got picked on and chased away from the food.  So we started sprinkling the food in 3 or 4 places around the run so that the new 2 had a chance of some.  Over the weeks this problem resolved itself and now they all eat peacefully together.

Big chook won’t roost like the others at night, he always stays in the nest box.  He certainly grew and grew and is now one and a half times bigger than the other hens.  Then he started to grow lovely feathers and curly tail feathers but didn’t crow and showed no interest in the hens.  I thought perhaps I had a gay cockerel!!

Then after 9 months he started to jump on the hens and 2 weeks ago he did his first “cock a doodle do”. So we know he is very definitely a rooster.

What a handsome chap he is too. He is half Welsummer and half Black Rock.

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Last week him and the girls were dustbathing in the churned up earth in the sunshine.

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Since then we have had rain and yesterday more snow, so no chance of a dustbath today.  We need to move the hens enclosure as soon as possible as they have churned up all the ground and there is no more grass where they are.  Still they are back laying well.  Most days we have 8 to 10 eggs from 13 pullets and one day we had 11, so they can’t be too unhappy, but we will move them soon. We have lovely fresh eggs for our B&B guests.

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All electric car test drive

On Wednesday we had the opportunity to test drive an all electric car, a Nissan Leaf.  This is a Japanese built car and certainly a car for the future.

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It was a really smooth ride and so quiet they have had to add noise so that pedestrians can hear it coming.  It’s like an automatic in that it doesn’t have any gears and even the hand brake is electric so you just press a button to put it on rather than pull a lever.

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When reversing a screen comes up on the dashboard and guides you into your parking space, really clever.

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The battery pack is spread evenly under the car to distribute the weight, and it comes with a charger that takes about 12 hours, but you can buy faster chargers at additional cost.

The car will do approx  105  miles before needing charging again, but the range depends on whether you are going up and down hills or not, or whether you have the AC or heater on, or lights on etc.  It would be ideal for short journeys into town and back and even better if you could charge it up with power from the solar panels.  Currently there are not many commerical charging points around the country and no doubt it won’t be long before these are springing up just like service stations did when petrol cars became popular.

The cost of the car is quite high in the UK but will come down as the technology behind battery manufacture improves. How long a pack of batteries will last and their replacement costs are also something else to consider when buying a vehicle like this. So I don’t think we will be buying one just yet, although I did like it.

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Comments (1)

Moving the bees

During the cold spell we have had, Neil decided to move the bees into the woods.  It is best to move them when they are more or less dormant and there is no activity outside the hive.  He moved them from the side of our field, near to where the hens are just about 100 yards into the woods. This will enable us to extend the hen run without being too close to bees.

He made a special stand for the hive at waist height, so as not to have to bend down to examine the hive.  He made it big enough to take 2 hives so when he gets another hive of bees later this year, he can also position them there.

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The above picture is taken looking down the slope into the woods.  You might wonder what the green bags are for either side of the hive. Well that is to flap about and put off any woodpeckers from pecking the hive and eating the bees.

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This is the front of the hive, where you can see we have strapped the hive down to the stand, this is to stop any deer from dislodging it.

Even although today it is a sunny day, the hive has not warmed up enough for the bees to start flying again.  But now that Spring is on its way hopefully they will start flying again soon.

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STOP PRESS:  we still have availability at the B&B for Easter Sunday 31st March and Bank Holiday Monday 1st April

Comments (2)

Mystery red fungus

We were gathering wood that had blown down from the trees in our woods and I came across this branch on the ground with 2 round cup fungus growths on it.

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We asked a friend who is very knowledgeable about these matters and he advised that this is an Ascomycete Sarcoscypha austriaca also known as the Scarlet Elf cup fungus.  It is not uncommon and is very similar to Aleuria aurantia the Orange peel fungus. So now we know.  Anyone else seen this recently?

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STOP PRESS:  we still have availability at the B&B for Easter Sunday 31st March and Bank Holiday Monday 1st April

Comments (5)

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