Just a quick post. The sun was perfect today and in my back and forth trot I noticed that a new star had appeared in the garden, the little mystery flower that does indeed seem to be a tulip, at least according to my notes and Google searches. It closed very quickly, but I managed to catch it in a, albeit blurry, photo. I was too busy planting more potatoes, filling pots and planting more dahlias for perfect capturing. What makes this little flower somewhat special, along with the gorgeous pink hyacinth behind it is that the pot they’re planted in has the cancellation letters from those dark times, see the Journey page for more information, so I’m pretty pleased that a flower that looks like a tiny twinkling star has appeared above them. I was joking that since we didn’t know what kind of flower it was before it opened that maybe it grew from the letters. It seemed a fitting way to put those days behind me. Just throwing them away, burning them or defacing them didn’t seem the best way, planting something above them felt cathartic as they rot away life moves on above them. Okay, see you later, Dear Reader.
How many ways can one greet you, Dear Reader? Do I need to start with a hey? A hello? A yo? Or do I just get directly to the important parts? I have no idea either, that’s why I’m typing this out. Whew. That’s the introductions over. Today we’re going to talk about soft, moist and, almost, velvety compost. What? Heh. This is in part a gardening blog, I suppose. As with everything it’s rough and ready, but I do like to keep you up-to-date on any experiments in the garden. You can always skip over these posts so I’ll just carry on talking to my Devoted Dear Readers who put up with me. Now, I’m sure I mentioned, no idea when, that I’m trying shredded, rather than just torn, paper in my compost as there was a problem with the whole mass becoming solid and almost unstirrable, I’ve been picking paper out of the beds where I used the last batch. Had to us it as it was getting to be a problem. Starting fresh I’ve tried a new route and how did it fare? Really well, the compost stirs easily and has a much better feel, hard to put it properly. It’s like stirring thick porridge, the whole feels less solid. So, as you see above, I’m keeping a bin full of shredded newspaper, cardboard, whatever will shred and layering the bins properly. I’ll keep doing this as it’s just about the same amount of work as the old way and the long-term looks better. I’m saving the world, right? This is what so many talk about but never do because here is no credit for it, no great applause. But, here’s where Jack gets odd: There is, it’s in the life in the soil, the worms, the insects, the microbes I can’t even see, and it’s in the soil where vegetables will grow. The light and loose soil that will let plants flourish. It’s the pleasure of knowing that each year that passes will bring better and better yields, brighter, healthier flowers. Nature is repaying my work, as with all things worthwhile it takes a long time and is all too easy to overlook. Or maybe I’m just an oddball playing with dirt.
I put down a couple of trays of flower seeds, roughly filling in and scattering, too much fuss with flowers leads to disappointment, and as they have germinated I decided to put down a few cabbage (Golden Acre) seeds. The weather is getting warmer, but it’s still uncertain, so slowly does it. Thankfully this year I know a lot more than I used to and I know that rushing will leave me with large spaces of time where nothing can be done. So, experience has given me the kindness of knowing that it’ll all get done in time. That seeds will start only when the weather suits, no matter how soon I put them down. That squash seeds need high heat and impatience leads to rot and loss. Most important of all is that a little can go a long way. I have only put two seeds in each pot as last year I put five or more and ended up with cramped seedlings that needed extensive thinning. I’m doing this for the joy of it all, Dear Reader, I answer to no one and I’m learning that I can do it and should believe in my self more. I walked through the garden today, cleaning a little here and here, as it wasn’t warm enough to do much and I saw so many shoot of green, some old friends making a return visit, some new making their first appearances. Even a few oddities, the garlic that died seems to be returning, the two solo bulbs have started to produce leaves, they’ll be interesting to watch, whether I’ll break the secret of the solo bulb is anyone’s guess. I still have space and plenty of plants waiting to be planted and replanted. I was gifted a purple asparagus crown that has started indoors and will need hardening off before it goes out. The rose cuttings will need potting and the bay laurel, dormant for two years is finally starting in earnest. I was looking at the tires that didn’t do very well last year and they seem to be better now the bulbs have been established. There is work to be done, but it’s enjoyable more and more each year as my experience grows. Until later, Dear Reader, take care.
Yo, Dear Reader, I mentioned Yesterday that I was baking. I just thought I’d share the photos. The base isn’t gluten free and I’m not eating it because of the curd, but you could easily substitute some pastry like mine: Buckwheat Flour Pastry. Okay, I hate when recipes are teased and not listed until the end of a post so here you go.
The cake has a secret that I may neglect to take a photo of so I’ll tell you. There’s a layer of jam in between the two halves. What I did differently this time is I spread a thin layer of buttercream on each half and the iced he little blobs all around the edges, they stuck much better with the buttercream backing. I did the same thin spread at the top and it really helped. There’s a little strawberry jam in the buttercream as well, it really pops. I’ve never been that great a hand at decorating cakes, I usually do them all the same way. It works and there’s always enough icing to cake going so that you don’t end up with just a large chunk of plain cake after you’ve eaten some of it. The one marvellous thing about the cake is that aside from the slightly stronger taste, my brother said it’s like a cake made with brown flour, is that it’s identical to the wheat flour version. Honestly, like most recipes if you didn’t tell people what’s in it they’d likely have no idea. We’re nowhere near as discerning as we like to think and people have a mental block towards anything “different”.
My own birthday is coming next week and I’m undecided on whether I’ll make another cake. I’m the only one who knows how to make this, it’s my own recipe, came about when a cake recipe botched and I only had a single night to make a cake for my nephew. The ideas in the comment section involved more milk and at that stage I just went to Google and did it myself. Buckwheat works for cakes like this as it’s a heavy flour, but these are sturdy cakes, they’re not delicate or crumbly. They’re fluffy, but solid. I’m thinking of perhaps trying it as a round cake in a spring-form pan, it’d end up flatter and I’m concerned that it might lose it’s texture if baked too flat. Or, worse, it might rise too much in the middle and sink. One thing I have learned is that leaving it in the tin too long will cause that soggy, thin layer at the bottom, as will under mixing the sugar and butter. You really need to taste the butter mix to make sure the sugar has fully dissolved. I use caster sugar to make it easier, but ordinary sugar works too.
I mentioned about ditching the cream of tartar and I honestly prefer it this way. I have a high speed hand-mixer and it aerates the eggs really fast. These are the same free-range hen eggs from a friend so the white are really thick and you can see how bright the yolks are in the curd. The eggs I used in the cake are duck eggs and though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m typing this as it rests and awaits tomorrow or today depending on how you look at it, the batter looked better even before baking. It look more silky and smooth. Duck eggs are great for baking, but very strong to eat as is. I opted for the hen eggs for the curd as I wasn’t sure that the duck egg’s strong taste wouldn’t over power everything. The secret to the curd is to use plenty of zest, I just peel big chunks letting the lemon spritz it’s oils into the yolks as I peel, all yolk this time and it had set firm after an hour or so. Even after baking the topping it wasn’t long setting again after cooling. It takes time to get it all together, but it’s a big occasion and when it’s done right, shared with people you loved then it’s a really wonderful thing to create. I’ll leave it at that today, Dear Reader, I’ll try to get some cut photos of the cake and pie.
I’ve been preparing for a birthday all day today and I’m really tired, Dear Reader. I’ll have photos of the birthday cake, made with Buckwheat Flour, and the Lemon Meringue Tart, the base was the only thing bought and isn’t gluten free. They turned out well, when I set my mind to it I can bake pretty well. Naturally since the sun was shining I took to the garden for a while too. I’m honestly sure that stones breed while in the ground because I never seem to stop hitting them whenever I start prepping the beds for planting. I decided to make use of the space between the paths, for pea picking, someday, this weather is dire, and planted onions. It’s a lot large when you start planting. There are three rows of onions there. Yes, that’s pink yarn and the hair pins, once for pinning strawberry runners, are great for keeping it in place. I then scattered the peat and sawdust, that the bulbs I bought today came packaged in, to keep it dry. Drier at least. The cheap corms and root sections were back again so I got some Button Snakewort (Liatris spicata) and Crimson Pirate (Hemerocallis). Yeah, like I know the Latin names off and didn’t just copy and paste. Jack is good, but not that good, Dear Reader. The shop was so hot that the Crimson Pirate had already started and is a healthy green. The snakewort is in between the red hot pokers. With a purple rose because I have no sense of colour matching.
The climbers are doing well too. I had some of the button snakewort, what an awful name, Kansas Gay Feather is a little better, hard to remember either, spare so I popped a few in beside the jasmine and honeysuckle, the honeysuckle has jammed it’s roots everywhere in the bucket. It’s so dense, thankfully also bottomless. The clematis isn’t suffering for being a cut off section of root and in a pot. It’s really surging into a lush plant again. It’s still a little slow around here, but I get a little done at a time when the weather is fine so I can’t complain all that much. I’ll see you later, Dear Reader. I’ll bring cake.
Jack is really starting slow this year Dear Reader, but in truth though I often get an early start the seeds will only germinate when the weather is consistent so it doesn’t really change much, aside from my mood, which is black as the weather unless the sun graces us with its presence for a short while. I managed to get a little done today at least. The potatoes are down and fed. I went on my yearly expedition to the discount store and stocked up on feed and slug pellets. The different in price, even between the two discount stores is amazing. I also found shallots, red sun, a very large sized set of sets, red hot poker crowns, I really like them for some reason and a purple rose that better be purple unlike the Waltztime that wasn’t. It took three baskets and didn’t cost much at all. I’m a heavy handed feeder, but it pays off in the long run. When everything is one fifty you can’t help but buy, right?
Funny story, I was browsing the internet reading about pumps for rain barrels, I have an old irrigation pipe now that needs to be affixed to the wall, so I was curious if there was anything cheap that could help with filling watering cans and maybe let me use a hose. There wasn’t, but I did see a hose attached to what looked like my tap. If you’re new then you might not know that my rain barrels were all made with no idea of how to make them. They’re barrels, drilled with a bit I got for free, run-off pipes made of old hose, guttering, some adapted and some new, and a fermenter’s tap. All rough and ready, but they’ve stood the test of time. See the taps are all the same as they fit handily and it turns out that the weird shape at the end is to allow a hose connector. I had no idea! How embarrassing, how could you not know that, Dear Reader? Shameful! Heh. So I popped out, grabbed a few adapters that were left around, snapped off part of the inside and attached a hose section, clicked it on and turned on the tap to see water spurting from the hose! Yeah, I can fill watering cans, the pressure is just high enough for that, without having to centre them dead-level under the tap. It’s funny how even the earliest experiments I tried in the garden have stood the test of time.
It’s early yet, but I’m making progress. There’s a bit of colour cropping up here and there and I can see new buds started on the recently moved roses. The area where they were is now flat and gravelled over. The Summer bulbs are starting too, they’ll be very slow growing, but I’m glad to see the small ones are still alive. They should look much better this year after division. Okay, that’s it for now, Dear Reader, take care.
I have most of this in separate recipes, but I’ve put it all together below. Eton Mess is a pretty forgiving meringue based dessert as if the meringues are ugly or have started to ooze then you’ll still be fine as they’re just crumbled up and folded into cream. Meringue can be a daunting recipe, Dear Reader, as if you fail at any step then you’ll probably have to start again. It’s very unforgiving as a stand alone recipe, but it does teach a lot about the science of baking. If you find a recipe that really works, then it’ll work time and time again and gets easier the more experience you gain with each retrial. I’ve used this recipe quite a lot so I can vouch for it, there was a moment where they adhered to a new brand of greaseproof paper and I was annoyed, it wouldn’t affect the mess, but it’d wound my pride. After a few minutes they released, just give them a little time to cool on the paper if you’re having issues.
My strawberries had started to go bad after only a day so I opted to make a compote instead of just blending them with sugar. They’re not great this time of year. Forced growth affects the stored sugar levels I suppose, but with a compote you can adjust the sugar to your own taste. It makes the whole thing feel that much more fancy too so that’s an added bonus. The only advice I can offer is to follow the recipe exactly, don’t go fast if it says stay slow. There’s a reason for slow additions, you’re dissolving the sugar without over beating, and folding in rather than beating, you’re keeping all the air in. The reason people struggle with these kinds of recipes is that they too often assume they know best and there is nothing more crushing than a near two hour recipe having to be thrown out because you wanted to save a few minutes.
I like the fact they can be baked ugly. There is a lot of work for a dessert that will last a few minutes at most, but as it’s Mother’s Day I decided to go all out. The serving size is up to you, I’ll get three decent servings out of this, you could easily get six smaller ones. I think that because I started with complex recipes it gave me a really good foothold to get myself started on learning how to cook and bake. They’ve stood me well and though I do a lot of simple recipe the basics I’d learned at my meringues, rouxs, cupcakes, cakes and custards has been a great help.
I don’t do this kind of baking much these days, because it’s pretty amazing how much sugar you can get into a very small dessert, know how much there is and still feel that a little additional sweetness wouldn’t go amiss. I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade, but I feel I have to share my own struggle with sugar addition and help others realise it’s not just them and that they can still enjoy desserts in moderation. It’s a strange feeling t know that I no longer miss this kind of food, I know the enjoyment never equalled the sheer volume I used to eat, but it’s nice to drop by now and again. It’s a desert of contrasts, the crunchy gooey meringue, the soft, billowing, slightly sweet cream, the sweet and runny compote, with tender morsels of strawberry, all topped with fresh strawberries with their firm, slightly tart flesh. Separate it wouldn’t be the same, the magic is the mess you could say. Okay, that’s it for today, I’ll see you again soon, Dear Reader.
2 Large Egg Whites at room temperature
57g Caster Sugar
57g Icing Sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 110C (No Fan). Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2. In a glass bowl (Not Plastic), beat the Egg Whites with an electric mixer on medium speed. Beat until the whites form stiff peaks.
3. Turn the speed to high and add the Caster Sugar, one Dessert Spoon at a time. Keep beating for 3 seconds between additions. When ready the mixture should be thick and glossy.
4. Sift in 1/3 of the Icing Sugar and gently fold, from the bottom curving up towards the top, using a rubber spatula or a metal spoon. Repeat until all Icing Sugar has been incorporated. Mixture should be billowy.
5. Scoop, using a spoon, onto the trays and bake for 1 Hour 15 Minutes or until they turn a light coffee colour and have a hollow sound when the bottom is tapped. Turn the tray halfway if needed for even baking. When baked removed from tray and let cool on a wire-rack.
200g Fresh Strawberries
1. Add Sugar and Fruit to a pot. Bring to the boil and while stirring together, heat for a few minutes or until Fruit juices have been released.
2. Turn down heat and let simmer until thick. Leave to cool before putting into the fridge.
Chantilly Cream and Assembly
250ml Double Cream
Fresh Strawberries Halved For Topping
Dash Vanilla Extract
1 Tbsp Icing Sugar
1. Whip the Double Cream, Icing Sugar and Vanilla Extract using an electric mixer until stiff, then crumble The Meringues, in varying sized chunks, into the Whipped Cream and gently fold it all together.
2. Layer the strawberries at the bottom of a bowl of glass and top with he Meringue Cream then repeat until everything has been used up and top with fresh strawberries. Serve immediately.
You just can’t get enough of Jack, can you Dear Reader? Well here I am, splattered with sunshine, trailing in the Spring and making progress towards getting started. We’ve had really good weather these last few days so you can be sure that I’ve been making the most of it. I have a lot of jobs to do, now instead of getting flustered I’m taking them a little at a time, slowly chipping away at my work load. You know I noticed that I no longer feel ill and unable to eat or drink after working myself like, well, Jack. The diastasis recti was affecting me in way I haven’t realised until now. I’m afraid I don’t have anything that exciting to report. I’m holding back on seed planting, though I just put down a few saved flower seeds as a test, until I’m sure the weather is staying warm. I have plenty to finish so I’m in no hurry.
I have to re-pot strawberries, which seems to be an endless task. Sadly the strawberry barrel wasn’t a success. I managed to salvage the strawberry roots and have re-potted them in a large pot. The roots on the yellow strawberries are thick, but very short so they’re going in slightly smaller pots. As for the barrel, well, I was at a loss at first, but then I had an idea. You can see the final result below. A few neatly split pots sit over the gaps where the holes were in the full barrel. It’ll be a nice show-piece, needs a very large plant to make use of all that root space. A lot of the garden is staying the same, when things are going well I’m happy to leave them be.
I seem to be doing nothing but shifting soil from pot to pot. Emptying ones to refill them, throwing away dead plants and using that soil to fill pots for other plants that are being moved. I feel as if I’d emptied and refilled the wheelbarrow hundreds of times. I’m slowly filling pots for seedlings. It’s fiddly work and there will be quite a few to fill. Thankfully the herbs just go into their final pots, so will the chillies. Peas and beans are going in the soil once it warms. Squash have larger pots for starting in due to their huge roots. It’s wonderful to be tired, really beat, but not in pain, not sick and worried about strain. I’m still being careful, but everything seems to be doing well. The garden is done for me and me alone, I’m just going to take it at my own pace and enjoy it. See you later, Dear Reader.