Goodbye sunshine

What a fantastic morning!

Today, 20 March 2015, we experienced a partial solar eclipse – over 90% of the sun was obscured by the moon. And here in west Wales we were lucky to have completely clear skies and a friend who hosted an eclipse breakfast party. Mr Snail came home specially for the event, which made it even more memorable (you can read his post about it here).

We Snails went to China in 2009 to see a total eclipse, but it was lovely to have the chance to experience this one at home. In China we made new friends, here in Wales we were with old friends – both occasions were remarkably sociable. It’s lovely the way that such a natural phenomenon draws people together and can result in a remarkable ‘human’ experience as well as a fascinating astronomical one.

One can only imagine the terror that people experienced in earlier days when the light disappeared, but in modern times it feels like an opportunity for celebration. We enjoyed viewing the spectacle directly through special glasses, as well as projecting the image onto card through binoculars and (believe it or not) a colander! In addition, the image could be seen when the light passing through the canopy of a tree was viewed on a piece of card. Pictures cannot capture the atmosphere nor the strange light, but here are a few to give a flavour of the morning:

And then after more than an hour, we retired indoors and Linda had prepared the most fantastic breakfast… coffee, porridge, croissants, fruit, marmalade, jam, yoghurt, toast. And we spent another couple of hours enjoying good company and great food.

So, huge thanks to Linda and Graeme for hosting such a lovely event – it could not have been better.

A breakfast fit for… well, me

Almost every morning for breakfast I have a bowl of something oaty: porridge or muesli or granola. In the case of the latter two, I have it with stewed apple (yes, I’m still eating bottled apples) and homemade yoghurt. My favourite sorts of muesli are the ones where the grains are toasted, but no matter what brand or variety I buy, there is always at least one ingredient that I’m not keen on… very hard dried apricot in one (I’d like it if it was soft) and an excess of fat raisins in another. Granola is better as there are types that only contain seeds or nuts and seeds, but they tend to be very expensive. So, the other day I decided that I should find some recipes for granola and make my own, after all it’s only broken-up crunchy flapjack.

Halfway through cooking - personalised granola

Halfway through cooking – personalised granola

Granola is not something we make much in the UK, so almost all the recipes I could find were American, but this is fine because I have a set of volumetric cup measures. I trawled through recipes, rejecting them for exactly the same reasons that I reject ready-made breakfast cereals – ingredients that I don’t much like – before I realised that it didn’t matter. All I needed, in fact, was a recipe that gave me an idea of the relative proportions of dry ingredients (oats, seeds, nuts, sugar etc) to wet ones (oil and syrup). The one I settled on had approximately 3 cups oats, 3 cups seeds/nuts, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup syrup and 1/4 cup oil plus 1 cup dried fruit added at the end. Basically, you mix everything up together (except the fruit) and bake it in a cool oven for an hour and fifteen minutes, stirring it four or five times during the cooking. I warmed the syrup before mixing to make it more runny and easier to handle (I used golden syrup).

Because I wanted only to use ingredients that I like, I just took them out of the store cupboard. So, in addition to the oats, my granola contains cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds (which I grew myself) and Shipton Mill five  seed mix (malted wheat flakes, barley flakes, sunflower seeds, millet and oats). I completely forgot, but I also have homegrown poppy seeds that I could have added… I’ll use some of those next time. After cooking I added chopped dates. Now I have a breakfast cereal completely tailored to me.

It’s just cooling as I write, but already I can tell you it tastes delicious. In the future I will aim to increase the proportion of homegrown ingredients, but I’m already quite pleased with my first attempt.


And a little addition following some discussion on Facebook… as well as adapting the dry ingredients to your taste, there’s no reason to stick with golden syrup (I used it because I had some in the store cupboard). You could try honey, maple syrup, yacon syrup (you can grow yacon in the UK so you could make your own) or whatever you fancy. And you can change the quantities. All you need to do is coat the dry ingredients, so warming the syrup to make it thinner means you can use less, or you can water it down if you want something less sweet. I should note that I used a dark raw sugar in mine, which is less sweet than granulated sugar and adds a different flavour. Oh, and I guess you could use molasses if you fancy instead of syrup. Really, the point is that this is not so much a recipe as a pointer towards experimentation.

Lazy Sunday

My bottled peaches and waffles made using an egg from Aliss

My bottled peaches and waffles made using an egg from Aliss

Yesterday was a busy day – volunteering at Denmark Farm (moving piles of bracken onto the compost heaps, clearing out culverts and subduing a rampant silvanberry) as a well as a couple of blog posts, plus celebrating the 50th birthday of Doctor Who in the evening. Today, therefore, has to be much more relaxed. We started the morning with homemade waffles and some peaches from the batch that I bottled in the summer… what a delicious treat, it really was like having a little bit of stored sunshine, as I had hoped. This was followed by some virtual house hunting… my sister is planning to move house (much nearer to us – hurrah!) and so we spent a long time on the phone and online looking at possible houses.

Work in progress.. fingerless mitten in 6-ply Opal Polarlichter Shade 5207

Work in progress.. fingerless mitten in 6-ply Opal Polarlichter Shade 5207. plus pattern notes

The rest of the day will be spent on creativity… Mr Snail-of-happiness has been coveting my fingerless mittens for a while now (they are brilliant to wear if using the computer when the house is a bit chilly) so I offerred to make him some (and thus to delay starting an amigurumi dragon that I spotted on  The Guy Who Crochets blog). The only pattern I have for fingerless mittens fits me, so I’m writing a man-sized version as I go along. Right now the first one is done all except weaving in the ends and I hope to make the second today… so it won’t really be a lazy Sunday after all, just a relaxing one!

Oranges really aren’t the only fruit

Raspberry flowers... fingers crossed these turn into fruit

Raspberry flowers… fingers crossed these turn into fruit

Some years ago I realised that the digestive problems I had been suffering from were the result of lactose intolerance. I was devastated because I had, until then, always started the day with a bowl of milk and cereal along with a cup of tea with milk. So, I had to do some research and completely alter my morning eating habits. I was delighted to discover that I could eat live yoghurt because the Lactobacillus that turns milk into yoghurt actually breaks down lactose (which is a disaccharide) … so these wonderful little micro-organisms can do the digesting for me!

Looking forward to our first red currants this year

Looking forward to our first red currants this year

Eventually I settled on (home made) yoghurt, fruit and either oatcakes or muesli to begin my day. In addition I completely gave up milk in tea and coffee. For quite a while my  fruit of choice was banana, preferably accompanied by raspberries (I LOVE raspberries). After a while I came to realise how expensive this was, especially since, at the time, I had to buy any raspberries I ate and even frozen ones were not cheap. And then along came the apple mountain of 2011. My friend Perkin over at High Bank gave me car loads of apples, which I stewed and bottled or froze or juiced or made into jelly. My freezer was stuffed with blocks of frozen apple; my dresser was stuffed with jars of apple puree. In addition, 2011 was the first year that my raspberries fruited in abundance, so all through the summer I had been eating fresh raspberries and I had more of those in the freezer.

Blueberry flowering well in 2013

Blueberry flowering well in 2013

The idea of buying fruit was absurd – we had more fruit than I knew what to do with at that time and so I gave up the bananas and transferred my allegiance to apples: very few food miles and no added chemicals. As we planted more things in our fruit cage, I realised that we might be able to be avoid having to buy any fruit… as long as Perkin’s apple tree continues to thrive. The fruit cage now contains red currants, blueberries, choke berries (new this year) and pink dessert gooseberries as well as raspberries and rhubarb, so we’re not putting all our fruit in one basket, so to speak.

Sadly 2012 was not a good year for apples and I ran out in March, but this coincided with the start of the rhubarb season, plus I still had some blackberries (picked from the wild last autumn) in the freezer and these have supplied my breakfasts until now. So, apart from lemons and a punnet of strawberries to celebrate the new season last week, we have not bought any fruit in 2013. And I have high hopes for the two potted citrus plants – one lime and one lemon – that I have sitting out in the sunshine at the moment.

It turns out that discovering I was lactose intolerant made me think about my diet in a whole different way and has encouraged me to grow much more of my own produce… every cloud has a silver lining!

A taste of summer

Here in west Wales it truly feels like winter has arrived: dark nights, dark days and cold damp walks with the dogs.

I am very thankful, therefore, for the fact that my autumn raspberries continue to supply a small taste of summer every few days. There aren’t many of them, and the flavour may not be as intense as it was a couple of months ago, but I find it a great joy to go out into the garden and harvest a small taste of sunshine to add to my breakfast… and they are all the more welcome for being fresh.

Summer in November

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