Sunday, 28 September 2014

Marmalade and Mozzarella

We've just finished our first week of WWOOFing with Alastair and Suzie at Earthstead. While it's been a little challenge for bodies used to sitting at desks all day we've both enjoyed settling into the mostly self sufficient lifestyle with plenty of time spent in the kitchen too.

Making use of the seasons produce is high on the agenda and particularly using up some of the milk that their three dairy cows are producing each day. In just the few days we've been here butter, mozzarella, quark, ricotta and halloumi have all been made with Joe getting a chance to tick a few items off his "preserving methods I'd like to try one day" list. He's found a kindred spirit in Al, and the two have been spotted a few times peering at cheese making books trying to decide what to make next, as well as lengthy discussions on whether it's possible to build some sort of cellar for curing hard cheeses in!
Curds and Whey for making mozzarella

When not playing with the fresh milk, there's been fruit and veg for preserving and we've made three batches of marmalade as well as a jar of kimchi. We found the experience of picking our citrus fruit for the marmalade a very surreal one - just not something you'd do in the UK. Here we had a choice of oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons and limes all on the bushes. Madness.

Fresh fruit from the garden

Not all of our time has been spent in the kitchen and Alastair and Suzie run a luxury accommodation business on site with three self contained apartments. Naturally this means there is always plenty of cleaning to be done as one guest leaves and another arrives and we've also been helping with an overhaul of the parking area, clearing it of weeds ready for a fresh layer of gravel. While hard work it's been satisfying to see the area gradually looking so neat and tidy. 

Finally the chairs for the properties are all being freshened up with new upholstery. This isn't something we've done before but with plenty of experience playing with both wood and fabric it isn't something we've found too hard either. As a task it's progressing slowly as we've been distracted by all the other jobs to be done but we've finished our first chair and I have to say it's looking pretty good. Hopefully be able to crack on with the rest next week.

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Friday, 26 September 2014

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kitchen Gadget 9. Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer

Picture the scene. It's a beautiful autumn day. The sun is shining, the tree's are golden, your apple tree is full to bursting with ripe fruit. You carefully pick as many as you can, but you know that these apples are not keepers. No matter how nicely you pack them they just will not survive being stored for long. Instead you need to process them, eat some now, freeze some for later, maybe make chutneys and other preserves with the rest.

You get the picture? You're standing in your kitchen faced with a mound of apples and they all need dealing with. Every single one. Luckily, someone else has been here first - enter the Apple Peeler Corer Slicer. Simply skewer an apple on the prongs,

turn the handle,

and out comes an apple ready for cooking. Magic.

Apple Crumble
A simple recipe, but one that plays an important part in our repertoire. We use equal quantities of the main ingredients mostly because it makes it simple to remember. 

For the crumble:
120g Plain Flour
120g Porridge Oats
120g Butter
120g Sugar*

~700g stewed apple, sweetened to taste

*I've not specified type of sugar here as we use a different combination every time. We always start with granulated and then decide to swap out part of it for soft brown or muscavado, or whatever we fancy and have in the cupboard.

1. Pop all the crumble ingredients in a food processor and mix until, well, crumbly. Alternatively rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs and then stir through the sugar and oats.

2. Place the stewed fruit in the bottom of a casserole dish. Top with the crumble mix and even off.

3. Place in the oven at 180C for 25-30 mins, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden. Serve hot with custard or ice cream or cream or yoghurt...

Once you've tried this once it's a great recipe for experimenting and using up odds and ends. In the crumble photographed here I added a handful of raspberries into the apple, a large teaspoon of ground ginger into the crumble mixture and a sprinkling of demerara across the top for a little added crunch. How will you make yours?
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Sunday, 21 September 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

We're self-confessed not-city people. When on holiday in or near a city we find we run out of things that we want to see or do very quickly - in particular spending lots of time in large shopping areas holds little appeal. With three days planned for Vancouver we were a little worried that we would hit this problem - but apparently not! We successfully managed to enjoy the bits of a city that do appeal and largely ignored the rest!

One of the few things we often say we do miss about living in a big city is the sheer variety of food places there are. The demand is there for the interesting, quirky, local restaurants and the food markets offering all sorts of delicacies. Over the three nights we ate differently each time and, be it tacos or curry wrapped in a roti, all was very tasty and reasonably priced.


We fell in love a little with the public market on Granville Island and certainly if we were local would have visited regularly. We were amazed to find a tea stall with over 100 varieties of tea, include single estate pickings of some of the best known black teas. They brewed us up a pot each of two of the single estate assams and we came to the conclusion that Jen preferred one and Joe the other. The market there also provided us with lunch on one of our days - a bagel stuffed full of pastrami - Joe was in heaven!

Pastrami + Bagel = Tasty

We made up for all the good food by keeping active and on Monday we rented bikes for the day and cycled most of Vancouver's sea wall cycle path which is mainly flat and takes you for a lap of Stanley Island as well as round the harbour.  It was a fantastic way to see the city, though just under 20 miles later and we were rather tired and sore (more cycling than we've done in many many years).

False Creek, Vancouver

On our last day in the city we were looking for something to do not too far from the airport and came across the VanDusen Botanical Gardens - 50 acres of gardens with plants from all over the world. It was another beautifully sunny day and a lovely way to spend our last few hours in Canada.

Waterfalls at VanDusen Botanical Garden

Then, "just" 14 hours of flight later and we found ourselves half a world away in Auckland Botanical Gardens taking the excuse for some fresh air and a leg stretch before the drive to our first hostel. Despite a climate that felt very familiar the jump from an Indian Summer in Canada to early spring was rather confusing for the senses - particularly the sudden abundance of daffodils. While many of the plants felt similar to those back home - a great magnolia display being their seasonal highlight - there were many that felt strange and slightly tropical. The abundance of ferns - particularly the larger tree ferns were a definite reminder that we were somewhere new! We spent much of our walk round the gardens trying to decide whether what we could hear was a rusty gate or a bird, before getting our first sight of a tui - known apparently for including timber-like creaks in its song!

Ferns uncurling at Auckland Botanical Garden

We spent our first 3 nights in New Zealand on the Coromandel Peninsula - chosen for being close to but not in Auckland itself (see earlier notes about not being city people). Little did we realise that after just a two hour drive we would be in a remote quiet mountainous region with a stunning coastline. It was a lucky stab in the dark but we really hit the jackpot. As in Canada we had low expectations of ourselves the first couple of days to help with jet lag and travel fatigue, but apart from being a little sleepy in the evenings we coped with the travel much better on this leg giving us space to go for a couple of short walks, observe some of the local birds and borrow the hostel's kayaks for an hour on the quiet estuary. I don't think we could have planned it better if we tried.

View from the top of the hill at Oputere Youth Hostel

Our next stop is three weeks WWOOFing near Cambridge and is going to be a complete change of pace from what we've experienced so far... watch this space!
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Friday, 19 September 2014

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Swiss Roll by Mel

Today's post comes to you from a bit of a time warp. Due to crossing the international date line on an overnight flight we're skipping the 17th September this year and going straight from Tuesday in Canada to Thursday in New Zealand. Strange!

Since we've temporarily ceased to exist we've got the first of our guest posts for you today. Over to Mel:

You will by now be very familiar with the Great Swift Bake-Off, but as Joe stated in his first Bake-Off post, he got the idea from a friend who’d done something similar. Well, that’s me. In a much less organised manner, I and my friend and colleague Nikki vie for ‘Queen of the Cake-Off’ on an approximately monthly basis. So far we've covered ginger cake, lemon drizzle, Halloween, brownies, cupcakes and an Easter spectacular, plus a few more - we've reached about 10 now. This week it was Swiss rolls; inspired by the Great British Bake-Off the other week I went for a Chocolate and Salted Caramel swiss roll, I can’t take credit for the recipe I’m afraid, but here it is:

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Swiss roll

For the cake mix:
  • 4 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
  • 70g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 80g plain flour
  • 20g cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking powder
For the salted caramel:
  • 80g light brown muscovado sugar
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tsp water
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 pinch flaked sea salt
For the butter cream:
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 350g icing sugar
  • 100ml of the cooled salted caramel sauce
Apologies for my photography skills, I’m not as kitted up camera wise as Jenny and Joe!

Start by whisking the egg whites to stiff peaks – using a gadget always works best for me, hand whisking is too much hard work. I've been given a tip that it’s best to do this in a glass bowl rather than plastic, as plastic can retain some greasiness, even after washing, which will prevent the whites from whisking well, so I always whisk eggs in glass.

Once you've got stiff peaks whisk in the sugar then gradually combine in the egg whites whilst still whisking, add the vanilla essence at this stage too.

Sieve the dry ingredients over the egg mixture and gently fold it in, trying to keep as much air as possible in the eggs. The air makes the sponge stay nice and light, and less like a pancake . . . more on that later.


Gently pour the mixture into a lined, greased tin ~21x31cm, and even the mixture out by tipping the tray and gently smoothing with a spatula, do not bang it, all the air will disappear! Approximately 8 minutes in the oven (175C for fan oven (190C non fan/gas mark 5 1/2)) and you will end up with a nice springy sponge, slightly pulling away from the edges of the tin.

Whilst the sponge is still hot, spread a piece of greaseproof on a clean work surface, tip the sponge straight out on top and peel off any lining paper you used. For a nice tight roll, use a knife (doesn’t need to be a sharp one) to score a line along the short edge about a centimetre in and about half the depth of the sponge.


Use the greaseproof to grip the hot sponge as you tightly roll it up, the sugar now stuck to the outside will help it come apart again later, but if you try to roll it cold you tend to end up with massive cracks. Leave it to cool.



Melt together the sugar, butter and water to make the caramel. Swirl it rather than stirring, otherwise you’ll probably end up with crystals instead of caramel. After bubbling for a few minutes, take it off the heat and whisk in the cream and the pinch of salt (I used ground, not flaked, don’t think it ought to make a difference really). Again, leave to cool.

Meanwhile some more:

Beat the (room temperature) butter to soften it, and then gradually beat in the icing sugar and ¾ of the caramel sauce. It gets quite stiff once you’ve added all the icing sugar, but eases off a bit once you add the caramel.


I piped my buttercream, filling the bag a little at a time so that it doesn’t get too warm from my hands, and using a star piping nozzle makes for nice patterns later. And here the humble water glass, essential to filling a piping bag, and not making a mess once it’s filled . . . 


Unroll the sponge roll and pipe/spread some of the buttercream across the surface, then roll tightly. You don’t need to pipe perfectly to the edges, the buttercream spreads to the ends as you roll it tight.


First to admit I’m rubbish at piping, but here’s my attempt at a nice smooth covering, with nice arty ridges created by the star shaped nozzle. Drizzle with the remaining caramel sauce and voila, an iced chocolate and salted caramel swiss roll, fit for a Queen of cakes.

Yes, I won. Unfortunately Nikki’s recipe stated whisking the eggs whole, rather than whites separately, which meant almost no volume to her sponge . . . so it ended up a bit like a rolled up pancake. But she’s not the only one to make that mistake, I attempted a Slimming world friendly Chocolate and strawberry roulade earlier in the weekend, and also ended up with a slightly pancakey sponge. Tasty though, and much less guilt eating it!

Mel is an Electronic Engineer living in Stevenage. She designs and tests motor control circuits at work, but like to fill her spare time with activities like baking, knitting, cross stitch or just hanging out with her pair of house bunnies. She met Jen on the first day of university, when they found themselves sitting together in an introduction session, having unconsciously grouped together as some of the few female engineers in the room!

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Weather-full Week

This week for us has been shaped completely by the variations in weather and of course we've been very British and talked about it a lot. Shortly after polishing off last weeks blog post on Saturday morning we left Edmonton and started the journey west. Our flight out of Canada next week is from Vancouver making the aim of our two weeks here to see a much as we could while travelling the 1500km between the two cities.

Saturday was a warm clear day, great for watching the changing views as we travelled towards Jasper. Initially we had a couple of hours driving through large swathes of pine forest, with little else to mark the passing of time which we found a little disconcerting. The roads here are clear and wide  and we ended up having a gummy sweet every 15mins just to give us a tangible time marker! We were surprised to find the lorries doing the same speed as everything else, they're not restricted to a different speed limit as they would be in the UK, and that all corners here are marked with a warning sign - no matter how gentle.

On one of our days driving we stopped to stretch legs and found a boardwalk
through a giant cedar forest!

Then we saw it, the hazy row of mountains in the distance, and suddenly everything felt much more exciting. Other drivers were watching us while we kept stoping to take photos, looks of "you know there's a better view round the corner, right?" but we didn't care! Slowly but surely the view just grew and another couple of hours and we were in the national park itself . The weather was perfect and we just couldn't get over panoramic after panoramic of grand mountains and beautiful turquoise lakes and rivers.

Jasper National Park

We'd booked to stay in a wilderness hostel just outside Jasper, meaning it was completely off grid. Limited power from solar panels, wood stoves for heating and no running water (unless you jog to refill the barrels for the kitchen, as the hostel manager informed us), but regardless we had a great couple of days there meeting a variety of people (mostly Europeans). When we arrived we sat outside with a cup of tea and just absorbed the quiet mountain surroundings, and we were glad we did because Sunday was a little grey and damp and by the time we got up on Monday the ground was covered in snow!

Left: the hostel on Saturday; Right: the hostel just 36 hours later on Monday morning

Knowing that the hostel was at a much higher altitude than the main road, and that even there the roads seemed to be clear we didn't worry too much as we set off for a days driving down the Icefields Parkway to Banff. Little did we know that we were about to spend the entire day driving in a snowstorm! We stopped a couple of times to enjoy the view first at Leach Lake (very pretty) and then at the Athabasca Falls (huge volumes of water, plus some cool rocks from where the water had worn it's channel), but by the time we stopped at lunch time the glacier that was supposed to be over the road was completely lost to the mist.

Beautifully carved rocks at Athabasca Falls
By the time we arrived in Banff that evening we'd come to the conclusion that if the snow wasn't going to improve we were going to need to change our schedule. We weren't really geared up for cold weather (this snow being an unseasonable early cold snap) and the car wasn't either. When the weather forecast said another 10-15cm was due a day later we got in contact with the family we were staying with for our next stop and arranged to come a day early. Over the course of the following day the thermometer in the car went from reading 1C to 20C as we moved west again, we slowly stripped off all the layers we'd dug out in Banff, and by the time we reached the Okanagan Valley it was lovely again. We found we just kept chuckling over experiencing such a change of temperature in just a days driving, something neither of us had done before.

Quails Gate Winery

Kelowna has been lovely and we don't in the slightest regret getting here early. We've enjoyed visiting a couple of the regions wineries, even if just to enjoy the view and the sunshine (they have picked the nice warm slopes for their vines as anyone would do). We've seen the city from both the top of Knox Mountain and a sailing boat in the middle of the lake. We've explored the local craft distillery and wandered through the town centre. I think we've got past the point of looking at everything and gaping at how big it is, though Joe's been loving the occasional sight of the large trains pulling miles of carriages.

Sunset over West Kelowna from the top of Knox Mountain

Despite all the weather changes it has been a good week. We've seen plenty of stunning scenery, met lots of different people and just about got used to the Canadian road system. We're finishing off our week with the final part of our Canadian journey over to Vancouver and I'm sure that will be as different again as the places we've seen so far. 
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Friday, 12 September 2014

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Birthday Socks

Do you ever find that you're busy making something that you want to blog/instagram/facebook/tweet about, something that you're really pleased with, that's working just the way you want? Except you can't. What you're making is a present and the recipient is bound to notice if you put photos online - particularly if the person is the sort that has a sixth sense about these things. This was the case for me earlier this year and for a while I had to make do with just showing them to Joe at least once a day (which he loved, I can tell you).

Finally, however, the day has come when I can show them to you too. Water for Elephant Socks using Regia Extra Twist sock yarn in Violet and Yellow.

Happy Birthday Mum.
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Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Postcard from Edmonton

We arrived in Canada on Wednesday evening after months of planning and 19 hours travelling. The flights were long but we enjoyed watching the world go past, starting with the clouds clearing to give us a cracking view of our beloved Islay, to seeing the sea ice and glaciers in Greenland. For the last three hours or so we were looking at Canada itself and that really helped us understand for the first time the size of this enormous country, along with just how sparsely populated it is (sure we knew it was big but the reality took some getting used to). 

Icebergs, glaciers and mountains of Greenland

Our change of planes in Iceland went smoothly enough, with the exception that we think our bags were left outside in the rain for the hour and a half we were in the airport - the wet had soaked through both our outer cases and our rucksacks and a lot of stuff was damp which would have taken more than just the 5 minutes to load them from the trolley onto the plane to achieve. We were pleased though when we got onto the second plane to be able to watch them put our bags onto the plane too so we knew that transfer had safely happened.

Wet bags in Reykjavik

So we finally arrived, collected our bags and our hire car and got on the road into Edmonton. We made it safely to Adam and Morgans house despite the new car, right hand drive, new road layouts and not having much of a clue where we were going. We were immediately stuck again by the scale of everything, particularly the size of other vehicles on the road. Most people around here drive trucks apparently... and they are not small! 

Our hosts in Edmonton have been lovely, greeting us with news that they'd got the teapot out specially and they'd let us loose in their attic where there was plenty of space to spread out our things to dry. We slept fairly well despite the 7 hour time difference though once we'd woken up at 5.30 there was no way we were going back to sleep. 

Our plan for our days in Edmonton had been to take things gentle, not knowing how either of us would react to the jet lag. Thursday morning we wandered slowly toward the centre of Edmonton, first going into a sewing shop and discovering a larger collection of patchwork material than either of us had seen in one room before, and then visiting the highly recommended Duchess Bake Shop. We walked as far as the top of Victoria Park and the River Valley. Edmonton is a flat city based on a grid system with the exception that there is a river that runs through the middle surrounded by trees and parks. Coming across this as we walked caught us by surprise even though we knew this was what we were aiming for - again just the scale of everything was what hit us, are you spotting a theme here? 

Aside from a few trips to supermarkets that has been about it for Edmonton. Jet lag has left us rather knackered and we decided to pause now rather than fail to enjoy the mountains. We did manage to cook a meal for our hosts on our last night with them - sausages, mash, yorkshire puddings and onion & red wine gravy.

Next stop, the Rockies...

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