28 September 2008

Treacle Tart with a Canadian twist

Golden syrup isn't an ingredient that is used much over here, although you can get small jars of it in some of the bigger supermarkets. The Good Housekeeping recipe I was following today called for a whopping 1½ pounds of the stuff, which was beyond my storecupboard's capacity. Well, actually when I say storecupboard I really mean 'boxes on the dining room floor', as the kitchen is still a work in progress.*

So without the requisite quantity of golden syrup a bit of improvisation was required. The tart has a plain shortcrust pastry case (in a 10-inch/25cm flan dish) and I made the filling with:
  • breadcrumbs (made from four generously-cut slices of half-wholemeal bread)

  • my 250ml jar of golden syrup (which I didn't weigh, but guess to be around 10 ounces of syrup?)

  • grated rind of two lemons

  • two eggs

  • enough maple syrup to make a thick, gloopy, mixture (about 100ml)

I didn't bake the pastry case before cooking it, although you could. Just prick the base all over with a fork and pour in the filling. I had plenty of pastry left over, so made an agrestic lattice pattern over the top of the tart, which was then baked at 350°F/180°C for 50 minutes and allowed to cool off slightly before serving.

This quantity would give eight people a decent-sized slice each. You need something cold to serve with it - double cream or crème fraîche (or a mixture) would be great. We used up a tub of decent vanilla ice-cream.

*So I'm not cooking in anyone's kitchen at the moment, which is even harder than cooking in someone else's.

25 September 2008

Nitid nightshade

I've featured these Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) berries on the blog before (once last October when they were covered in ice by our first frost). I like the way that the berries mature at different rates, giving these lovely clusters of autumnal colour. They seem almost luminous with the sun shining through them.

22 September 2008

Berms and bulbs

The geothermal pipes were a bit too close to the surface in places, so a load of topsoil was delivered while I was away to cover it up sufficiently. This man-made heap is known as a berm over here: a word I've never heard before. I checked the Oxford English Dictionary just now and it doesn't seem to have caught up with this use either. It talks about a berm as a terrace or flat piece of land next to a fortification or river and comes up with an American use of the word in the phrase berm-bank, which is the bank opposite the tow-path of a canal, but doesn't mention a berm as a simple mound of earth.

So, anyway, thanks to the geothermal system I now have a whole new bed to fill with plants (and to keep clear of weeds. Sigh.). I started on it yesterday with my mother-in-law and we planted 100 spring-flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, freesias and hyacinths). Longer-term I plan on making it a bed full of native flowers that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

18 September 2008

Domestic disorder

Solar panels and blue skyIn my absence the solar panels have been installed. Don't they look great? I thought the old weathervane on the barn roof would be obscured by the panels, so was glad to see that it is still visible.

Inside the house, the kitchen has been completely gutted (the stove is the only thing in it now) and we are surrounded by dust and boxes full of kitchen clobber. I know it'll be worth it in the end, but it feels hard to lead a normal life at the moment. Maybe I should have stayed away for another week...

13 September 2008

Jute, Jam and Journalism

I've been in Dundee for the last few days. I've been here before, but haven't had much of a chance to explore the city until this trip. There are some lovely buildings and the city's location on the banks of the Tay is picturesque. A lot of development is going on along the waterside to make the most of the views along the river.

Book on Hindustani for the Jute Industry, from Verdant WorksYesterday afternoon I visited the Verdant Works, a celebration of the jute industry. I had known that the jute industry was very important for Dundee in the nineteenth century, but didn't really know anything more about it. Jute is a tall annual plant that grows in north-east India and Bangladesh, on the Ganges delta. For many years the raw fibre extracted from the plant was shipped to Dundee for processing.

Via Google Book Search I found an article of 1874 in The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science by a Professor Hodges, which described the importance of the product:
At the present time jute is used for the manufacture of a great variety of fabrics ; in fact, it will serve for the production of every kind of coarse textile material. It is even used as a substitute for hair, and can be formed into admirable chignons. The dust from the mills is employed to make silk hats, and the waste fibre yields an excellent pulp for the manufacture. Stair-carpets of jute, with bright colours, can be sold at 3d. per yard

The part about it being used as a substitute for hair didn't surprise me - the fibres look like a length of Rapunzel's hair as they go through the processes in the mill.

10 September 2008

Pond love and Pond Life

I can see why Claude Monet got so obsessed by his pond. I find ours fascinating: it never seems to look the same way twice and is often teeming with life. I try to walk up to it at least every other day. Yesterday these reeds seemed to be trying to express their affection in return:

That image will have to sustain me for a week as I'm now back in the UK.

My mother won one prize in the whole of her school career. It was the Observer's Book of Pond Life, which always struck me as rather an unkind thing to give out as a reward, but I think she was genuinely proud of having won it.

07 September 2008

Quiche and Kuchen

The weather turned a bit British on us today (serves me right for mentioning the sunshine this morning), so I felt more like cooking than I have done recently. Lunch was a cheese, onion and thyme quiche. Only the thyme was from the garden, as I had a total crop failure this year with the onions. I hope that next year I'll be able to start them off in the greenhouse and won't lose them in amongst the weeds, which is what happened this year. The thyme, however, was grown from seed this year and has done really well.

Onion, Thyme and Cheese Quiche

Line an 8"/21cm cake tin or flan dish with shortcrust pastry made with 8oz (2 cups) flour, 4oz (½ cup) butter and enough water to bind it. I always make pastry in the food processor - it's really quick and a lot easier on the hands. Put foil or baking parchment on the pastry shell, cover it with dried beans and bake for 10 minutes at 420°F/215°C. Remove the beans and foil when the cooking time is up.
Meanwhile, melt some butter and a little olive oil in a pan and fry two sliced-up onions on a medium heat until they are very soft and going brownish round the edges. Add a couple of teaspoonsful of thyme leaves at the end of the cooking time. Beat three eggs with enough milk to make the volume of liquid up to around 15 fluid ounces/450ml then mix this with the onions and pour into the empty flan case. Grate some cheese (I used about 3oz/85g of Cheddar, but Gruyère would be good, too) and sprinkle over the flan.

Put the flan onto a baking tray and cook for 30 minutes at 320°F/160°C. Good warm or cold.

The cake was the 'mystery ingredient' chocolate cake that VP published in her Open Garden. Very easy to make and the whole cake didn't survive for more than 20 minutes once it had cooled down enough to eat (we didn't bother with the icing, either). The mystery ingredient did sound a bit strange, but it didn't put anyone off eating the cake! I notice that the cake surface seems to have formed in the shape of Friar Tuck. Most appropriate.

Cloth of gold

The woods are full of goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and late summer sunshine.

Insects are making the most of the flowers.

The New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are also at their best. I love the purple and yellow colour combination of the asters and goldenrod.

04 September 2008

Heavy metalwork

There have been a few false dawns with progress on the greenhouse (mainly because its height required additional equipment in order for us to be able to work safely). Today things went better, though. Here is the 10.30am view:
By one o'clock we were up to here:
And by 7.00pm it was all looking rather beautiful:

It was very hard work. More so for Mike who spent a lot of time climbing up and down the scaffolding platform. There was a lot of hauling on ropes and manoeuvring the ribs of the greenhouse around. All in hot sunshine, so there was rather a lot of sweating going on too (it really stings when it gets in your eyes, yuk). Although I think it was probably even hotter on the barn roof, where the solar panel guys were working for much of the day.

01 September 2008

Summer waves

Spent the evening at North Beach Provincial Park. We arrived at 5.00pm, to be told by the ranger that the park shut for the season at 4.00pm. On a hot, sunny, Labour Day? What are Ontario Parks thinking of? Madness. He told us we could leave the car outside the park (just a short walk from the beach), so we did that and had an enjoyable couple of hours in and by the water. Felt rather sorry for the ranger who was trying to get everyone to move their cars out so that he could lock the gates.

I thought about writing a stiff letter of complaint to Ontario Parks about their hare-brained opening hours, but after that lovely evening I'm far too relaxed and content.

Ode to Aubergine

To celebrate the imminent harvest of my first eggplant (and Garden Bloggers' Muse Day), here is a translation of a 400-year-old Spanish poem in praise of the fruit.

My Three Loves
by Baltasar del Alcázar

Only three things hold my heart
love-captive in a prison vault:
gorgeous Betty, Spanish ham,
and eggplant roasted au gratin.

Betty, guys, knew what to do
to rob me of the slightest clue.
I held as hateful and as petty
everything that wasn't Betty.

I spent a year without a hunch
until one day she served me lunch
consisting of some Spanish ham
and eggplant roasted au gratin.

Betty was the first to score,
but I'm not certain any more
which of them happens to control
the battlefield that is my soul.

In taste, in measure, and in weight
I think the three of them are great!
Now I want Betty, now it's ham,
now it's eggplant au gratin.

Betty's beauty can't be beat,
but Aracena's ham is sweet;
and ancient chronicles attest
that Spaniards loved their eggplant best.

And, so in balance are the three
that, judging quite impartially,
all are equal: Betty, ham,
and eggplant roasted au gratin.

At very least, my new-found squeezes
(ham, and eggplant drenched in cheeses)
may induce my Bettykins
to charge less money for our sins.

For she will find as counterweight,
if she fails to negotiate,
a generous slice of Spanish ham
and eggplant roasted au gratin.

(translated by Peter H. Desmond)

The poem in its original Spanish (and this translation) are available from the 'Après moi, le déluge' blog. Baltasar del Alcázar lived in Seville, Spain, between 1530 and 1606.