Finish as you mean to go on

So, here we are on the last day of the year…

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, I believe that when you want to make a change in your life you should do it when it’s right for you. Making resolutions because someone has told you that you ought to means you are much more likely to fail. However, it’s good to take stock sometimes and today is as good a time as any to do so. For me, 2016 has  involved lots more little steps to have a smaller negative impact on the planet and make life a little better for the people who live on it: from trying to be responsible for less plastic packaging (using soap and shampoo bars, taking our own bags and containers to the shops, seeking out products packaged in paper/cardboard/not at all), to growing lots of food; from undertaking lots of mending, to trying to cut out palm oil.

Today has been no exception: I started with a little pile of garments to mend:

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a variety of mends needed

I started by repairing a pocket of a pair of Mr Snail’s jeans. It had been repaired once before, but a new split had appeared so I used mending tape and a little piece of scrap cotton. The previous mend was spotty and the new one is checks, but only you and I know because they are hidden inside the pocket.

Next I replaced the toggles on my hand-knitted hoodie. The previous ones were glass and two of the three had broken. Before that it had wooden toggles and Sam ate them. This time I’ve used plastic, which I hope will be more durable.

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fingers crossed these never need replacing

Then I darned two pairs of hand-knitted socks. Mr Snail is very hard on his socks, so this is something of an ongoing chore.

My next job was to salvage the usable parts of the underwear that I made with my old sewing machine. Most of the pieces will be reused and stitched together using my new overlocker.

And finally, in my ongoing biscuit quest I made Granny Boyd’s Biscuits… a Nigella recipe that came my way via my friend Sue. The verdict: delicious and really easy to make, plus no palm oil. Thank you Sue, these are going to be a regular bake from now on.

So I have finished the year in the spirit that I intend to live in 2017. How about you? Do you make resolutions? Do you have plans?

The little things

Often I feel that with all the major events going on in the world, I am completely insignificant, my actions are futile and I might as well not bother. And then I realise that I’m not designed to live in this world of global news; that I can only assimilate information from a community that is meaningful to me and that I have to adjust my focus.

So, I have been trying to avoid The News, I’ve stopped following various people and organisations on social media and I’ve been concentrating on things I can do. I know that one of these things is to share ideas and so I’m feeling a little bad that I’ve hardly written for the past few weeks. I know that a stone thrown into the pond makes ripples that spread a long way. So, in that spirit, here are a few things I’ve been up to to save the planet in my own teeny-tiny way and make so ripples…

Katy the Night Owl gave me some eating apples from their neighbour’s tree, so I rolled my sleeves up and got baking, I used some of them to make an apple plait – a sweet, enriched dough filled with cinnamonny apple. It was delicious.

Then I put the remainder of the apples to work temporarily – encouraging some of the green tomatoes in the limery to ripen up:

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Come on tomatoes – there is nothing I like to make with green ones!

There are still chillies to harvest and tomatoes ripening up every day, so I made yet more passata, converted some of it into sweet and hot sauce (recipe here) and bottled up the rest.

I do still go shopping and when I do I try very hard to remember to take my own bags and containers. I’ve recently started going to a little local butcher who is happy to tell me about the source of all the meat that I am buying and to put all my purchases into my storage boxes rather than plastic bags… I’m hoping that she’ll start encouraging other customers to do the same.

The haul included some suet for making dumplings. As with many local butchers, this was free, although a donation for their charity collection was requested. I love using something like this that’s otherwise considered a waste product. You may have noticed that my bag is emblazoned with the words ‘Community Clothing’. This fabulous project is…

a manufacturers cooperative with a simple mission; to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and by doing this help to restore real pride in Britain’s textile communities. (Community Clothing web siteCommunity Clothing web site)

I got the bag via a crowdfunding campaign which helped to get the project off the ground.

So, that’s it, that’s the sort of thing that I do – shop local, support small businesses, use and preserve seasonal produce, reduce consumption of single-use plastic, oh and make cake, because the world is a happier place with cake…

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Lime cup cakes

An apple a day…

…does not, in fact, keep the doctor away. I’m still here despite the raw apple population Chez Snail expanding. I have managed to keep accumulation of cooking apples under control, but I did arrive home at the weekend with rather a lot of eaters:

An abundance of eating apples

An abundance of eating apples

Fortunately, these will benefit from sitting in the fruit bowl awhile, so we are not having to consume nothing but apples at the moment. The ones pictured came from my dear friends Janta and Merav, who live in their forest garden in Shropshire. Janta grafts fruit trees, so the diversity that they have is amazing and it was a delight to see their trees (which I completely failed to photograph) absolutely dripping with apples.

Bottling has rather ground to a halt, although it’s due to resume today, but I did make cakes the other day: apple cider cake (which we are enjoying at the moment) and wheat-free apple ginger upside down cake (which was made for an event that was cancelled at the last minute, so is now in the freezer):

Two different sorts of apple cake

Two different sorts of apple cake

I think that we’ll have apple crumble over the weekend and I’m planning to make some sweet chilli sauce containing apples and home-grown tomatoes and chillies (picture below), but I’m on the look out for other good apple recipes… any ideas?

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Three different sorts of chillies currently ripening in the limery: lemon drop (foreground), pyramid (middle) and Bartlett’s bonnet (back)

The Furred Man – Half Baked

To celebrate biscuit week on the Great British Bake Off, Auguste and I have been doing some cooking that didn’t involve putting things in jars. Rather than write about it himself, Auguste asked Mr Snail to do the honours…

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Wine and Bear ItOn your marks… get set… DRINK! Er, I mean BAKE!

Here in the UK, we have one of those pseudo-reality shows that deals with the deeply philosophical subject of baking. Such is the fervour for the Great British Bake Off (hereafter to be known as GBBO) that one of its judges, Mary Berry (whose daughter I once wrote a database for), is to become Queen of Britain should the current monarch pass away.

Auguste was so inspired by the opening episode last week that he went straight into the kitchen and drank a bottle of cooking sherry before anyone knew what was happening. Once we sobered him up, he ‘helped’ the Snail make some delicious Millionaire’s Shortbread. Here’s the evidence:

Mixing it upMixing it up

Making the baseMaking the base

Base Jumping (er, Food Hygiene issue, surely?)Base Jumping (er, Food Hygiene issue, surely?)

Eating the Condensed Milk - Auguste!!Eating the Condensed Milk – Auguste!!

Checking the RecipeChecking the Recipe

Pouring on the CaramelPouring on the Caramel

Mmm... chocolateMmm… chocolate

The Final Product - delicious!The Final…

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1-2-3-4 Cake

Last August I wrote a post entitled Cakes and cup cakes, in which I gave my ‘standard’ cake recipe, using equal weights of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Recently. Pamela commented on the post to suggest an equally easy recipe for what she calls 1-2-3-4 cake. She wrote:

Preheat oven to 350F, butter and flour round cake pans. 1c. butter, 1c.milk, 1tsp vanilla, 2c. sugar, 3c. sifted all purpose flour, 3tsp. baking soda, and 4 eggs. Cream butter, sugar & vanilla together, adding eggs one at a time, add baking soda & flour & bake for an hour (or until the toothpick comes out clean). The icing was confectioners sugar, butter & milk (proportions to be determined by it looking & tasting right) whipped to a frenzy and placed between the layers & around the whole cake, with middle filling (or not) and flavouring/colouring in the icing to the honouree’s preference. If you like heavier cake leave out the baking soda.

Us Brits tend to use weight measures rather than volumes, but I like the idea of using ‘cups’ and have a set of them for when I want to use a North American recipe. I understand that they became widely used in the US because they are so much easier to use when travelling  – relative volumes can be measured out much more simply than weights, and it’s easier to carry a cup than a set of scales and standard weights. However, I digress…

Chocolate orange 1-2-3-4 cake

Chocolate orange 1-2-3-4 cake

I did tweak the recipe a little, using 2 tsps baking powder and 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda in place of the 3 tsps of baking soda (which I translated as bicarbonate of soda). In addition, I added orange essence to the cake mix. There was no mention of when to add the milk, so I mixed it in gently at the end. At the time, I wanted a couple of cakes, so I split the mixture between a loaf tin and two 7-inch round cake tins, which worked well.

I decorated both cakes with chocolate-orange butter cream in the centre (butter/icing sugar/cocoa/orange essence) and a chocolate topping (melted dark chocolate/double cream/orange essence). What a lovely cake it turned out to be and one I will certainly make again.

Cake-making is a great joy to me – partly because eating cake brings a smile to most faces but also because bought cakes (other than those from the people like the Women’s Institute) seem to be stuffed full of things that I don’t really want to eat. For example, Cadbury’s Cake Bars contain:

Milk chocolate (33%) [Sugar, Cocoa mass, Cocoa butter, Dried skimmed milk, Vegetable fat, Milk fat, Dried whey, Emulsifier (Soya lecithin)], Chocolate flavoured filling (17%) [Sugar, Glucose syrup, Vegetable oil, Vegetable margarine (Vegetable oil, Salt, Emulsifier (E471)), Fat reduced cocoa, Maize starch, Dried egg white, Flavouring, Emulsifiers (E471, E475)], Wheat flour, Pasteurised whole egg, Sugar, Glucose syrup, Humectant (Glycerol), Vegetable oil, Fat reduced cocoa, Soya flour, Dried whey, Raising agents (E450, Sodium bicarbonate), Salt, Emulsifiers (E475, E471), Milk protein, Preservative (Potassium sorbate).

I don’t know about you, but I’m much happier with the seven relatively simple ingredients (or 11 if you include my filling and topping) in Pamela’s cake! And if you make my original recipe, there are only four basic ingredients!

DIY dog biscuits

Some months ago I discussed making the dog’s diet more sustainable. In the intervening time we have started feeding them more raw meat: minced offal has proved particularly popular with them and we are able to buy it from the same place that we buy much of the meat that we eat ourselves. It is organic, and the sort of thing that the dogs like is often rejected by us pernickety humans. I have to confess that I’m not a great offal fan, so being able to feed it to the dogs makes me feel a little better.

Dogs, being omnivores, cannot live by meat alone. We are fortunate that our two are fond of vegetables. Max will happily disappear off with a cauliflower stalk or a carrot for a quiet chew under the kitchen table.

Unfortunately, we have not solved the problem of dry food yet. Max suffers from Colitis and the latest research, according to our very knowledgeable vet, suggests that highly processed protein in the form of complete biscuits is the best diet. So, whilst we do give him a variety of fresh foods, Max still eats quite a lot of commercial complete dry food. There is another aspect to their diet, however, that I can contribute to. To help calm Max’s delicate digestive system, we give him (and Sam) charcoal biscuits as treats. I have always, until now, bought these from our local pet shop, but I realised yesterday, as stocks were getting low and I didn’t fancy going out because it was raining , that I could probably make these myself and thus avoid any artificial additives and simultaneously reduce our ‘dog food miles’!

Homemade charcoal biscuits - yum?!

Homemade charcoal biscuits – yum?!

A quick survey of the interweb and I was ready: organic wholemeal flour (milled at our local watermill), organic olive oil (from Spain… few olive groves in west Wales), some ground up charcoal tablets (designed for human consumption, but slightly out of date) and water. I mixed it up to a dough, rolled it out and baked it whilst I was cooking other food in the oven last night.

And the verdict from Max and Sam? Well, see for yourself:

Biscuit time! Yum!

Biscuit time! Yum!

Cakes and cup cakes

Unsurprisingly, the arrival of the hens more than two years ago resulted in a significant increase in egg availability. Having convinced myself that it is in fact ok to eat eggs every day (not that we actually do), I was faced with deciding how best to use them. Clearly they can be scrambled, fried, poached and boiled and we do have them for lunch in one of these forms on many days, but they are also a brilliant ingredient and good source of protein in a meal… as omelette or Spanish tortilla and occasionally quiche. But one of the things that I do more now than ever before in my life is baking.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake – too fiddly to make every day!

Mr Snail-of-happiness has a very sweet tooth and is delighted to have cakes and cookies available most days. In a fit of exuberance ( and bibliophily) I bought several new books on baking, including two of the Hummingbird Bakery books, and set about testing out a variety of recipes. Somehow I got caught up in the moment and for several months made lots of cup cakes* and other fancy creations. Whilst these are enjoyable to make, they don’t necessarily deliver in terms of using up eggs – just one egg for ten cup cakes. So, recently I have returned to the cake recipe I learned as a small child and which never lets me down. It’s easy to remember because you use equal weights of margarine, sugar, egg and self-raising flour (approximately 50g of each ingredient per egg). You don’t even need scales to measure the ingredients – just a crude balance, with the eggs on one side and the flour, margarine and sugar in turn on the other. I once made such a cake with a whole load of students on a botany field trip to the Burren in Ireland… they were fascinated by the simplicity of the recipe and by the fact that we were able to build our own balance with two bowls, a plank and a log. On reflection, I think I taught them more about cooking on that field trip than about botany, although we did combine the two by learning the names of the various plant families in relation to each of the vegetables and fruits we were cooking!

Anyway, I digress… the cake is very versatile – add some cocoa powder and it’s a chocolate cake, or make it more interesting with lemon zest, orange, caramel flavour… whatever you fancy. You can fill it with whipped cream and jam for a decadent Victoria sponge, lemon curd or butter cream to recreate childhood teatimes! Mr S-o-h’s favourites are chocolate peppermint sponge or chocolate orange sponge (in both cases chocolate cake, a chocolate topping and chocolate-butter cream with either peppermint oil or orange essence added).I, on the other hand, am particularly fond of the lemon option… with lemon curd and lemon butter cream and topped off with a sprinkling of icing sugar!

So, whilst I will continue to try out occasional recipes from my fancy books… the old standard will still be wheeled out and enjoyed on a regular basis.

-oOOo-

* My sister provided me with a good explanation of the difference between a cup cake and a fairy cake: a fairy cake has lots of cake and a little butter cream, whilst a cup cake has lots of butter cream with just a little cake.

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