25 March 2012

A new record

In 2010, these daffodils opened on April 3rd. And that was two weeks earlier than in 2009. This year, they were open when I arrived home on March 20th: two weeks earlier again. The anemones are flowering, too:

Quite a contrast from the same week in 2008, when the hayfield looked like this:

Of course the disadvantage of all this warmth is that the weeds are actively growing, too...

21 March 2012

Big views, little views

 It's been one of those mad fortnights where I've been dashing from venue to venue and city to city. I've seen two different Londons, one of which suffered a riot while I was there (and it wasn't the one you might expect). My travel plans were complex, sometimes bordering on the convoluted, but went surprisingly smoothly. Well, all except for the last day, when Toronto's waterfront was cushioned with a fluffy layer of fog and the plane I was on couldn't land there. We ended up going to Ottawa to get more fuel and finally landed back in Toronto four hours later than scheduled.

An unexpected bonus of the diverted flight was that we flew over Prince Edward County on the way back to Toronto. I was sitting on the right hand side of the plane and got a good view of the Bay of Quinte and Lake Consecon. At times like that, you wish there was an option to don a parachute and get straight back home without having to go to the airport and then take the train for the two-hour trip back along the shoreline. Although it might have been tricky to get my suitcase down to earth in one piece, I suppose.

It was good to get home and catch up with what had been happening here. The weather has been unseasonably warm, meaning that the greenhouse sowings I made before I left have been making impressive progress. The experimentally pre-sprouted peas have come up in soldierly-looking lines of sturdy little plants. This is definitely the best way I've found so far of ensuring germination and growth of early peas. Says she, counting her peas before they've podded.

The carrots I sowed last autumn are looking good, too:

Outside, it's been warm enough for the tyre/tire-garden rhubarb to start unfurling its leaves.

On my rushing-to-catch-up to-do list for Sunday is: sow eggplant/aubergines, peppers and tomatoes; clean out chicken coop; cut down last year's asparagus ferns.

Day of rest? I think not.

04 March 2012

Cracking crumpets

I read Emily's post on making English Muffins the other day with interest. It reminded me of the crumpet rings I bought a long time ago (probably from Lakeland, but the ones they sell now don't look like mine). I think I tried to make crumpets with them once, when we lived in England, and it wasn't a successful experiment. But crumpets, once regular weekend tea-time fare for us, are hard to find in the shops here (and disappointing when they are found) so I thought it was worth repeating the experiment.

I can't remember what went wrong last time I tried, but I suspect the problem was that the crumpet batter stuck to the rings. The trick to avoiding this is to make sure that the rings are greased and that they are allowed to get hot in the pan before you add the batter.

Anyway, here's the recipe I used. It's from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (1998). I note that the other recipe on the same page is for Peshwari Naan Bread. This one cookery book page sums up a century of British food tastes, I'd say. But I digress...

Makes 12 crumpets. (The book says this quantity makes 24. The book lies.)

350g/12 oz/2 generous cups strong white flour (I used all-purpose*)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sodium bicarbonate
1½ teaspoons instant dried yeast
300ml/10 fl. oz/1¼ cups warm water
250ml/8 fl. oz/1 cup warm milk
Oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients except the oil in a food mixer for a few minutes to make a thick batter. Cover and leave somewhere warm for an hour. Beat for a further minute then pour into a jug.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Grease four 3-inch crumpet rings and stand in the pan for two minutes until very hot.

Pour the batter into each ring, so that they are about three-quarters full (the batter will expand as it cooks). Cook for 5-7 minutes on a medium heat until the surface is set and holey.

Remove the metal ring - the batter should have shrunk away from the edge, so this is fairly easy (not how I remember it from my earlier attempt!). My rings have little handles, which help. Flip the crumpets over to cook for one minute on the other side.

If you eat them straight from the pan, you don't need to toast them. But if you let them get cold, then toasting them will bring them back to full crumpetty perfection.

Watching the holes appear in the surface of the crumpets is fun. Here they are after a minute or two, with holes appearing at the edges:

Two or three minutes later, nearly ready to flip over:

And the finished product, crying out for some butter to melt into all those holes.

Personally, I don't think crumpets are complete without Marmite on them, too. But I accept that might be a little too English for some people...

*I tried this recipe with strong flour a week or two after writing this post. It wasn't a success: much harder to pour the batter, which turned into a gloopy mess. My advice is to stick with regular flour. If you like, you can substitute wholemeal flour for half of the total, to make a slightly more rib-sticking version.

03 March 2012

Wind of change

There's a damaging gale blowing down the lake at us this morning. From our house, we could see white horses on the surface of the water, as the ice was broken up by the wind. The dividing line between water and ice was rapidly advancing down the lake from west to east, so I went for a walk with the dog to capture the moment of change. This is happening about three weeks earlier than it usually does.

The eastern half of the lake was still fairly frozen, although close to the shore the ice has broken up into large, angular chunks. This picture looks peaceful, but it was so windy at this point on the road that I could hardly stand upright.

A limb of this tree had fallen into the road, so I carefully pulled it off to the side, so as not to impede traffic. Not that I'd seen any cars this morning.

The boundary between the ice and the water was fairly clear:

The waves on the water were echoed in the ice which moved in an much slower wave. One that made me feel slightly seasick to watch.

Just past the join between the water and the ice, the reason for the lack of traffic became clear:

One of our neighbours' trees is completely blocking the road. I couldn't even get past it on foot.

Made me feel a bit silly for pulling that other branch off the road, I can tell you.

02 March 2012

Signs of life

It may still be looking snowy outside, but my thoughts are turning to this year's vegetable gardening. I've had onions and lettuce growing on the windowsill of the living room for a few weeks now. The corn salad is looking good:

In past years I've started peas off indoors, too, as I've found that they get eaten if I sow the peas directly into the greenhouse beds at this time of year. I'm doing things differently this time, though. These Lincoln pea seeds were gathered from the plants I grew last spring: I left some of the pods to fully ripen and then stored them over the winter. I did the same with some of the Oregon Sugar Snap II peas. A few days ago, I soaked the peas overnight in water, then drained off the water and waited to see if the peas would sprout.

Now they're actively growing, I hope they'll be less of a temptation to the local rodent population. I'll put them out in the greenhouse at the weekend and see how they fare. Mike dug the last of the over-wintered carrots out for me last week, creating some space in there for the peas. There were over ten pounds/five kilos of carrots to be retrieved.

I think this is one vegetable that we can safely claim to be self-sufficient in!

01 March 2012

Messy mix

The weather people don't like it when the temperature is around the freezing point and a system is due to arrive. It makes it difficult to forecast whether people are going to get rain, freezing rain, ice pellets or snow. They always say that there will be a 'messy mix' as the system passes through.

Messy from a forecaster's point of view, perhaps, but my ears always prick up when I hear that phrase, as I know it means there will be a chance of some interesting ice formations for me to take pictures of. Today was such a day: we had freezing rain on waking, which turned to regular rain and then to snow.

On my morning walk with the dog, I found a fence-post decorated with a combination of snow, ice and lichen:

Some aster seed-heads, weighed down and encased by ice:

This Canadian thistle head looks like something microscopic blown up big:

And this seed head of Queen Anne's Lace was somehow still standing upright, where most of the others had toppled to the ground:

Not messy at all, in my opinion!