Friday 26 October 2018

Shades of Red

October has turned our garden hydrangeas from their pale summery pink into a glorious shade of cerise. 

Normally they turn green with just a hint of cerise.
A myriad of coloured leaves are showing themselves off on the Maple trees
Leaves as rich in colour as red hot chillies
In October we have enjoyed a veritable feast of scarlet sunrises and sunsets.
A walk in our local beech wood reveals, that in the main, the trees are still hanging on to their summer greens. Two or three weeks more and they should be showing autumn shades of amber and gold.

Just a hint of what is still to come can be seen.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Autumn Tart

Sheet of shortcrust or puff pastry
Butternut Squash
Sweet potato
Red onions
Red pepper,
Runny honey
Black pepper
Natural salt crystals
Prepare the vegetables, drizzle over some runny honey, then sprinkle with the spices, add olive or rapeseed oil and roast for about 20mins at 220℃ or until the vegetables begin to caramelise.
Allow the roasted vegetables to cool then place on to the pastry - top with some pesto, and cook for 20 more mins at 200℃.
I made some pesto but used a generous amount of cashew nuts rather than pine nuts. Pine nuts are such a ridiculous price for so few these days, and I also added much more Parmesan cheese than usual to the pesto for this tart.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

An Unforeseen Bump in the Road

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Today we were due to pack our bags and fly away to Bilbao. We had booked a stay in a small fishing village looking out at the Bay of Biscay with the mighty Picos de Europa as a backdrop. Known as 'green Spain' there are lots of wonderful walking trails to explore, and the family run hotel where we planned to stay is known for its tasty lunchtime tapas, but alas it was not to be.
At the end of August my husband gave his 96th pint of blood, and within half an hour had a near-fainting reaction, which was repeated off and on over the next couple of weeks. He has donated blood for his entire adult life and never encountered anything untoward before. Our doctor decided various hospital tests should be carried out - two CT scans, ultra sound, wearing an ECG monitor. Due to the time scale at that stage, and an unknown diagnosis, the doctor suggested that we should cancel our trip. However, nothing untoward has been found, the funny episodes have vanished, and it now seems that we could have taken the trip after all. 

But, the majestic Picos de Europa mountains and Cantabria's golden beaches will still be there waiting for us - fingers crossed in the Spring.

Friday 12 October 2018


Have you eaten a Hopper?

I saw and tasted them for the first time whilst travelling around Sri Lanka.
Their appearance resembles a lacy bowl. 
They usually have an egg sitting in the bottom which is added during the final minutes of cooking along with some some spicy coconut sambal, a tasty salsa, and caramelised onions. 
They can also be filled with a mildly spiced curry made using coconut milk, chicken, or cashew nuts together with green beans or peas. Sri Lankans always have lots of different curries available at every meal time catering for all tastes. There are no problems if you are a vegetarian, or a vegan, they make lots of dishes from their huge selection of locally grown vegetables and nuts. 
Hoppers are made from dried yeast, rice flour a pinch of golden caster sugar, both coconut milk and coconut water, and then after resting, cooked in sesame oil. They are similar to a pancake and, as luck would have it, a Sri Lankan street food restaurant has just opened in our local area, so of course we had to give it a try.

The hoppers we had locally were thicker and not quite so delicate and refined as the ones we ate in Sri Lanka, but they were tasty, we enjoyed them, and they bought back happy memories of Sri Lanka - we shall definitely return to this restaurant again soon. The dish at the back is a mildly spiced coconut milk, cashew nut, and pea curry.

The chef at one of the hotels in Sri Lanka showed us how to make a Coconut Sambal by kneading and working all of the ingredients well together by hand. I made some on my return home but admit that I placed all of the ingredients into my food processor and whizzed them up altogether. Definitely not prepared authentically, but it worked, and makes a useful side dish to any curry.
Coconut Sambal
1 cup of fresh coconut finely grated
(you can use desiccated coconut but sprinkle on a little hot water or hot coconut milk and leave for 10 mins)
1 large red onion chopped
1 - 2 tspns of chili powder
juice of 2 limes
2 chopped cloves garlic
pinch of natural salt crystals 
and a grinding of fresh black pepper.

Saturday 6 October 2018

A Feast of Zigzags

This is not the deep valley, cosy country lane Cotswolds beloved of tourists, but is in a location almost 1000 feet above sea level and situated on an escarpment.
But it is well worth the climb and exploration to find the Norman church of St.John at Elkstone.
Simon Jenkins travelled the length and breath of England for his book 'England's Thousand Best Churches', and included it in his Gloucestershire section. 
The Architectural Historian, Pevsner, described it as one of the most interesting and best preserved Norman churches in an area rich by any standards in the Romanesque. It retains its splendid Norman doorway and two sets of glorious Norman arches, and a corbel table of grotesques contemporary with the early church.

A stained glass window showing St. John in the south wall of the chancel which was made for the church in 1959 by W T Carter Shapland.
Built in 1130, the original Norman church had a crossing tower that was lost in the c13th. The south door is protected by a later porch which has afforded protection to the Norman tympanum now 888 years old.
The tympanum rests on a shouldered arch, supported by pillars with carved grotesque head capitals 
Entry into the church is via centuries of well worn stone steps,
but on arrival the eye is immediately captured by two sets of exquisite romanesque Norman arches - the first set lead from the nave into the chancel and the second set lead on into the sanctuary. Decorated in deep cut zigzags, also known as chevrons, they are a glory to behold. The outer hood mould is pelleted, terminating at each end with a dragon's head.  
Beyond the arches is the sanctuary with a small intricately carved stone Norman window which has a vividly coloured glass window done in 1929. It is the work of Cotswold stained glass designer, Henry Payne, a celebrated artist/designer, and done in the style of Burne-Jones. 
From the outside this delightful little east window has a carved pelleted inner order (sometimes referred to as beads or ball flowers) and an outer order of crenelation or battlement carving.

In the nave there is a Jacobean pulpit with one of the carved dragons descending immediately behind the preacher's head. 
There is an unusual church feature in the sanctuary that is shared by only one other church in this country.
This door holds the secret, so let's turn the lock
carefully climb the spiral stone steps,
and reach the Columbarium (dovecot - pigeonair).
Some of the mythical beasts and grotesque heads running around the corbel table.
Of all the grotesque heads and mythical beasts, this one is my personal favourite. I think that it must have been carved by a Norman with a sense of humour and vivid imagination.