November shoots

Some time back I wrote a post entitled Is it worth growing potatoes? My resounding conclusion was ‘yes’. Even though they are relatively cheap to buy, I like the fact that I know they will all get eaten, that it cuts down on our food miles and that that I can grow them chemical-free (check out my original post to get an idea of the pesticides that go into the spuds you are likely to get from the supermarket).


Tiny potato shoots – I hope they survive

Anyway… this year, construction of the limery meant that I was short of growing space and so not all of the potato tubers that I had available were eventually planted. Over the summer, the remainder sat in egg boxes on my windowsill and grew a few leaves, before starting to shrivel. Even so, they tenaciously held on and I couldn’t bear to throw them away. Finally, though, even I had to admit that I needed to do something with them. So, on Saturday when I removed the no-longer-productive courgette plants from their large pots in the limery, I decided that the remaining compost may just be able to have a second life as a medium for growing potatoes. And so, I rearranged the compost and popped the somewhat shrivelled tubers in. The pots remain in the limery and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these sad little remnants of this year’s planting will spring to life and provide us with a small crop sometime in the new year. Who knows? I could just have put the used compost and tubers into the compost bin, but I have nothing to lose in this experiment. I will be certainly be gloating if I can eat fresh Welsh new potatoes in February.

I’m also pleased to report that the limery is still proving its worth (all these pictures were taken today):

It may be the depths of autumn, but we have green shoots and reminders of summer.

Bubbling over

A few weeks ago I went to visit the lovely Jo at Mill Cottage Soap, to buy supplies for my woolly wash balls. I came away with four different soaps: naked (no scents, just soap), orange and cinnamon (a glorious, rich scent, but not overpowering), mandarin and lemon (a zingy refresher) and bergamot and patchouli (requested by all you old hippies out there!).

Soap blocks curing prior to use

Soap blocks curing prior to use

Jo makes her soaps on a relatively small scale in her kitchen, so it really is a cottage industry. As a result she doesn’t always have all the varieties available, but I was still spoilt for choice. When I visited, some of her soaps were still ‘curing’ in big blocks… two of these were varieties that I was keen to have, so I returned home with slabs cut specially for me that I had to promise not to use for several weeks (not a problem with my busy life).

Orange and cinnamon woolly wash ball: 100g of soap in a felt coat

Orange and cinnamon woolly wash ball: 100g of soap in a felt coat

However, the naked soap and the orange and cinnamon were ready for immediate use and so those are the ones I have been experimenting with. By using only the soap that goes in the centre of the wash ball, the whole article becomes permeated with the appropriate scent and is perfect for immediate use. So far, all my trials with Jo’s soap have been with Blue Faced Leicester wool, and both the fibre and the soap are lovely to work with. To aid identification, I am colour coding the wash balls, so orange and cinnamon ones are being embellished with orange and yellow. I didn’t entirely think this through, because I’m not sure what I’m going to use for mandarin and lemon…perhaps yellow and red.

Now I just need to sort out my labels and some cellophane packaging and I will be ready to open my etsy shop!

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!

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.


* 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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