30 December 2013

Individual steamed puddings

One of my Christmas presents was this set of silicone tea cups, designed to hold cupcakes. I don't often make cupcakes, but it occurred to me that they'd be good for making individual steamed puddings - and at this time of year I make a lot of those. It's compulsory to eat steamed puddings when it's this cold.

This quantity makes four little cupcake puddings - one is not really enough to make a satisfying dessert, but if you've already had a big main course, it is nice as a 'sweet nothing' afterwards. Two would be perfect (I just have to persuade the children to leave home...).


75g/3oz butter
75g/3oz sugar
1 egg
75g/3oz flour (I used a mixture of wholemeal and white)
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp milk
4 teaspooons golden syrup or jam

Beat the sugar into the butter until creamy, add the egg and mix well, then stir in the flour and baking powder. If the mixture is very stiff, add milk to loosen it up a bit - it should drop off a spoon if you tap it against the side of the bowl.

Grease the cases with butter or oil and put a teaspoon of syrup or jam in the bottom of each one. Spoon the pudding mixture into the cases (muffin cases would work here, too) and place them in the top of a steamer.

I cut some parchment paper to fit the steamer basket and put that over the cups to stop water dripping into them. You could use foil instead.

Steam the puddings for 40 minutes until cooked through.You can eat them in the cups or turn them out onto plates or saucers and add some cream or ice cream.

27 December 2013

Christmas decorations

I don't do a lot of interior Christmas decorations - just the tree and a few lights. But Mother Nature does an excellent job outdoors - and I'd much rather admire her handiwork.

26 December 2013

Icy sunsets

 I have to admit that when I heard we were likely to get an ice storm, my first selfish thought was 'I might get some nice photos'. After experiencing the two days with no power I doubt that will be my first thought next time, but there certainly have been some good photo opportunities after the storm. Sunset is a particularly atmospheric time of day. I took this photo on Christmas Eve. Someone on Twitter described it as 'awesome landscape porn'. ;-)

And I took this one this evening. The ice has melted a bit today, with slightly warmer temperatures and the sun shining all afternoon.

24 December 2013

Post-storm ruminations

Our power was restored at some point before midnight last night - a total of over 50 hours without mains electricity. We coped fairly well, although there are some things we might have done differently if we'd realised we were going to be without power for quite that long.

We've got a bank of batteries hooked up to the solar panels, so power cuts aren't usually a big deal for us. When the power goes down, there's a short pause, then system switches automatically over to the batteries and our lights come back on. On Saturday and Sunday we still had running water, thanks to that. We turned the geothermal heating off, but initially we still had the hot water heater running, which (in hindsight) we should probably have turned off sooner.

By Sunday evening we were running low on the backup power and there had been no sunshine to top up the batteries (there wasn't any on Monday, either - and a light dusting of snow came down and covered the panels, which wasn't going to help). We ran out of power completely at midnight on Sunday. The woodstoves did a good job of keeping the house warm, but I was worried about the water/sanitation side of things, as we need power to run the water pump. The usual advice is to fill the bath with water before the power goes out, but we hadn't done that and I wished we had - it would have been useful to have that water for flushing toilets. We drained the water that was left in the system into jugs and had plenty for drinking.

The fridge and freezers were without power for 24 hours and when I checked the fridge temperature after the power came back on it was only two degrees above the 'safe' zone on the fridge thermometer. We didn't open the freezers at all, so they should be fine after that period.

I was able to make hot food and drinks with the kitchen woodstove - we had omelettes, soup, quesadillas and a risotto during the outage. I'm really looking forward to being able to use my electric oven again today, though!

During Monday there were signs that people were working to get the power back on - at seven different times the fridge and freezer briefly came to life, raising our hopes, before subsiding back into silence. You realise how dependent you are on electricity when something like this happens. I spent my time reading to entertain myself, but the children both struggled without access to electronic devices (and through them, their social networks) - and we played a lot of card games. When the power came back on, Child#2 promised me that he'd never complain of boredom again.

The living room looked really cosy by candlelight, but I would have enjoyed it more if there hadn't been that nagging worry about when power would be restored and how we would cope for another day without it.

I'm very grateful to the power crews who have been working so hard to get everyone reconnected: I have a feeling that Christmas 2013 will be one to remember!

22 December 2013

Ice storm

We have had two day's worth of rain, which wouldn't have been a problem except that the air temperatures were below freezing, so it formed a lethal layer of ice over everything and has caused a lot of damage to trees and to power lines.

Our power went out yesterday afternoon and still isn't back sixteen hours later. We're running off our solar panel-powered backup batteries, but as there's no sunshine around today we're using as little of it as possible - just keeping the fridge and water pump going, and non-turnoffable things like the smoke alarms. And the woodstove in the kitchen is coming in handy for making hot drinks and keeping us all warm!

Yesterday the ice formed a layer about half an inch/1cm thick over the snow, which made walking pretty difficult - almost impossible in places. I found that my snow shoes were the best way of getting around.

Overnight, some of the precipitation turned to snow, which has made it much easier to walk outside this morning. I hope it has made life a bit easier for the crews working to clear the roads and reconnect the power lines.

It looks like the worst of the storm is over for now. Not an experience I'd want to repeat too often.

I did manage to (inexpertly) ice the Christmas cake yesterday. Seems I chose an apt design!

09 December 2013

December glut

Two words that don't often come together in these northerly latitudes of Planet Earth, I know. But that's what I'm facing in the swede/rutabaga and leek department today.

The temperatures aren't going to get above freezing for the next two week, so I really needed to get outside and bring in the remaining leeks and root crops and dig up a few more sunchokes. I can't say it was exactly warm out there today, but it was (just) above freezing, so it was possible to get a fork in the ground. I was certainly quite warm by the time I'd finished digging this lot up and shovelling the slushy snow off the driveway!

The leeks vary from 'respectable' to 'micro' in size, but I haven't managed to grow any at all for the last year or two, so I'm pleased with this crop. Now I just need to work out what to do with them all...

07 December 2013

Decking the halls

A warm day on Thursday removed the last of the previous week's snow, but it's back to cold weather again now. Averagely cold, though, so not really something to complain about and it looks like there is snow in the forecast for the next week or two.

This morning I went out with the dog to identify a suitable candidate for this year's Christmas tree. I found one in the line of trees that is growing in between the two halves of the hayfield and marked it so that Mike and Child#2 can go and harvest it later.

Then I went into the woods to gather some evergreen branches for additional decorations. We've got a few dogwoods growing around the property and I harvested some of the side shoots off those as well, to add a bit of contrast. I really love being able to gather all these things from our own backyard!

And here's the finished product - a simple garland of greenery over the verandah. Now all it needs is an inch or two of snow and it'll look fittingly festive.

UPDATE (Monday morning): The weather obligingly gave me the necessary finishing touch. ;-)