Having My Cake And Eating It ~ That Would Be Gluten Free Lemon Zucchini Cake

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This year I seem to have started off the zucchini aka courgette season with a glut. I anyway usually slice them into spaghetti strips or noodles to use, seasoned, sprinkled with fresh chopped oregano or coriander, and warmed through with a little oil or butter, instead of pasta. They go well with either tomato or meat based sauces.

But then as the harvest began to multiply beyond the sensible, including exceeding neighbour capacity, my mind wended towards cake. I remembered having a delicious slice of lemon courgette cake last year in a museum cafe.  So I did a trawl of recipes on the internet, and adapted a gluten free flour one found at The Pink Rose Bakery into a ground almond-polenta version. In fact I’ve been using ground almonds (and or polenta flour) in most of my cake recipes these days. They give much lighter, moister results.

So this is what I did:

Lemon Zucchini Cake

20 cm/8” deep cake tin, oiled

oven 180 C/160 C fan/350 F

Ingredients

250 gm/ good 8 oz of coarsely grated zucchini/courgette placed in sieve over sink to drain

2 large eggs

125ml/4 fl oz vegetable oil. I used groundnut

150gm/5 oz sugar. I used coconut flower sugar for its slight toffee flavour

112 gm/4 oz polenta flour

112 gm/4oz ground almonds

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder

3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

zest of one unwaxed lemon, though zest of two would not hurt if you like lemon

Method

1. In large bowl beat eggs, oil and sugar together until smooth;

2. Stir into the batter all the other ingredients except the zucchini;

3. Gently squeeze any excess moisture from zucchini and add to the mix, distributing well;

4. Pour into tin and bake for around 45 mins until lightly browned and firm to the touch. I was using a fan oven. Probably wise to check after 30  mins.

5. Cool in tin for 10 mins. Turn out onto rack and sprinkle with coconut flower sugar.

Options: You could drizzle it with icing made with lemon juice and icing sugar, or maybe add a carrot cake topping, although we found the cake sweet enough without. I’m also thinking you could swap the lemon zest for orange zest, and use half a teaspoon of cinnamon in place of the vanilla essence. And I think the cake would be good served with fresh raspberries and creme fraiche. Unfortunately we have now eaten it before I could try out this last suggestion. But never mind. There are plenty more essential ingredients growing at the allotment.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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Fading Flowers In All Their Glory

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I never used to like dahlias. As a small child I soon learned they harboured earwigs, the sudden sighting of which still sparks pangs of revulsion.  But this winter I relented – over the dahlias that is.

For the past few years I had cast envious looks over the fire-coloured rows grown by fellow allotmenteers. Not only did they yield lots of cutting flowers all summer long, but their presence brightened up the allotment for everyone working there.

But next I would think of earwigs, and the slugs that attack leaves and flowers, and the fact you have to lift the tubers in autumn and store them in frost-free conditions. It all seemed too much of a faff.

And then in the dark days of mid-winter, when gardeners are at their most susceptible to images of lush and succulent growth – whether floral or vegetable,  I was ambushed by Sarah Raven’s plant catalogue, a little publication that takes horticultural lust to a whole new level. So be warned. Plant lovers open the link at their own risk.

Ms Raven, a one-time medical doctor, now exercises her life-enhancing inclinations by sharing her growing-cooking-flower-arranging aesthetic in print, on screen and on home-run courses. One of her cunning knacks sales-wise is to group the plants in striking or subtle colour-ways. It works. You want them all.

And so it was, I overcame my dahlia resistance, and ordered a few tubers, starting fairly modestly, just to see how we would get along together.

They arrived in January,  in perfect condition and with full growing instructions, which I duly followed. For one thing I realised I could make good use of the winter-depleted polytunnel to start the plants off. I also bought a packet of the Sarah Raven dark cosmos seed collection, and I am pleased to say that both cosmos and dahlias are now flowering vigorously outside my polytunnel.

They look so bright and cheery there I am presently rather stingy about cutting them. But when I do, I’m pleased to find I enjoy them twice – both alive and dying when they take on a new kind of beauty.

So in my own Fading Flower Collection we have cosmos Dazzler (top), dahlia Dark Butterfly (bottom left), and dahlia Ripples (bottom right).

But to show you how at least one of them started out, here’s Dark Butterfly in full flight up at the allotment – pleasing lots of small insects, but thankfully earwig free. They, the little ratbag, pincering varmints, have been chewing my cauliflowers instead. It’s the gardener’s way of course: win some; lose some, and then, just now and then, when all goes to plan:  win, win, and WIN!

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Cee’s Flower of the Day  Please visit Cee’s blog. Another great spot for plant lovers.

Back To The Stiperstones ~ Or Slow Under The Surface, And What On Earth Were The Luftwaffe Doing Here?

This week at Lost in Translation, Paula’s prompt is ‘SLOW’. So here is another vista from our recent trip to South Shropshire’s Stiperstones (see also the previous post.) And the reason I’ve chosen it is because I cannot think of anything slower than the trans-global  journey of the landmass on which these hills sit. It has been travelling an inch a year for 450 million years, moving up from its source on the southern shores of the Iapetus Sea, 60 degrees south of the equator and roughly where the Indian Ocean is today. I’m not sure if the land beneath our feet is still heading north, or if one day Shropshire will be in the Arctic.

That’s quite a thought.

The other aspect of slow-going to be seen in these photos is the gradual weathering of the folded, upthrust former beach from which this 5-mile ridge is mostly formed. Much of the shaping began with the last Ice Age when the glaciers extended across Shropshire.

A far more recent, and somewhat bizarre reshaping apparently took place during World War 2, when the Luftwaffe, flying over the north end of the Stiperstones, mistook the rocks of the Devil’s Chair outcrop for a town with ammunition dumps, and duly bombed the place. How they came to this conclusion is hard to understand. Even in the heyday of the local lead mining industry, the communities were small and sparse and tucked into hillsides and valleys. There has never been a town in these parts. Perhaps in the dark the strangely glowing quartzite exercised some mystical, mystifying interference in pilot perception. Who knows?

It is anyway another good yarn to add to the tales of witchcraft and devilry that, in the human imagination of ages, enmesh these bleak uplands.

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We certainly saw no signs of bombing, though it might be hard to spot among the heaps of fragmenting quartzite. These particular shots were taken at Cranberry Rocks at the southerly end of the Stiperstones. We did not make it as far as the Devil’s Chair; it was too hard underfoot and too windy. But we do mean to make another visit one day soon, and tackle the hill from the northern end. We just have to remember not to go when mist threatens, or we might come on the Devil himself, brooding nastily on his craggy, Luftwaffe-remodelled throne.

 

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Butterflies In The Buddleia, Bees In The Teasels And All’s Well At The Allotment

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Over the past few days the butterflies have been feasting on the allotment buddleia bushes. From top down we have: Red Admiral, Comma, and Small Tortoiseshell. In the teasels we have assorted bumbles:

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This morning when I arrived at the plot, there were insects everywhere. It was also very hot, so I was glad to take a break from sieving compost and wander round, capturing some of the busy foragers. Having had a nice little play with my Canon Ixus, I then went back to work. I harvested my onions, hung them in the sun to dry, watered the polytunnel jungle, fought the tomato vegetation into submission, discovered a neat little cauliflower out in the raised beds, picked French beans, courgettes, plucked a few beetroot to make borsch and a lettuce for our neighbours, sowed some golden beetroot, carrots and Florence fennel, then staggered home across the field whither I arrived a very dishevelled and grubby person. Back at the homestead, he who is building a shed in the back garden had erected the fourth wall to his edifice, or at least the framework for same. And having laboured all morning and well beyond lunchtime, we then retreated to the cool of the kitchen for a restoring cup of tea. And there you have it, Monday chez Farrell – overheated but happy.

 

Am linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk which (as ever) is totally fabulous this week. Please trot over there for a longer walk than mine to the allotment, and also for some very lovely candlelit scenes around the streets of Lagoa.

Monochrome Strawberries ~ A Challenge Too Far?

 

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I don’t know about you, but the transformation of luscious red strawberries into non-colour is more than a little disturbing. For one thing it’s challenging my atavistic hunter-gatherer impulse to be drawn to a much-loved, ripe and ready fruit. My hand is reaching out to pick even as I am anticipating the sweet juiciness on my tongue and the inevitable dribble down the chin.

But what am I to make of the monochrome fruit? At the moment I’m thinking not only do they NOT entice, but I would also give them quite a wide berth. I’m also thinking I could be onto a whole new weight-loss-fad – ‘The  Monochrome Diet’ anyone?

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. Many thanks to Paula at Lost in Translation for her intriguing ‘After and Before’ photo editing exercise. It throws up all sorts of perceptual conundrums.

Seize The Day ~ A Lesson In Flowers

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You  have to be out of bed rather earlier than I am to catch the Morning Glories unfurling.  That is probably lesson  number one: be up and doing earlier in the day; nurture the creative impulse before the world of dreaming totally recedes and mundane matters like doing the washing impose.

Then there is the lesson of making the most of opportunities as they arise, and at least here I came up to scratch. I dashed outside in my night attire to capture this scene. The hoverfly will feast. The Morning Glory will be pollinated. And I am watching, recording and posting. Everyone wins.

All the same, on the side lines my writer’s nerves are jangling. There are other lessons here. For one thing I have several works in stasis, projects that I dearly wish to complete. But for some reason I’m not attending to any of them. The danger is that procrastination may soon transmogrify into something toxic – a stultifying sense of failure that in turn becomes a downward spiral of non-doing and self-recrimination. The writer’s vicious circle.

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But wait! I’m hurrying back to see what has happened to the Morning Glory. By late afternoon the sky coloured canopy of the day’s high hopes has imploded – the colours deepening, bruise-like.  It is hard not to feel a pang of loss for such swiftly passing loveliness.

Yet there is a beauty here too in the subtle end-of-spectrum shades. Not failure, but process. Deep within the crumpled sheath things are happening. The hoverfly has done its work. There will be fruit in the making, new seeds to ripen and sow. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to bloom. Time to get back to work then.

 

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. For more beauty in decay, pop over to Sue Judd’s blog. It is a theme she explores in many arresting photo essays

Wandering Around Cotehele House In The Rain ~ Traces Of The Past

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Cotehele House in the Tamar Valley in Cornwall began life around 1300 when it was owned by a family of the same name. Fifty years on, a marriage delivered it into the Edgcumbe family who owned it for the next (almost) 600 years. These new owners remodelled the house in the 15th, 16th, and 19th centuries, as well as building themselves another (their principal) house further down the Tamar River at Mount Edgecumbe.

In 1947 the 6th Earl gave the house to the nation in lieu of death duties, and it is now owned by the National Trust, one of their more atmospheric  properties. It was particularly atmospheric on the rainy May day when we were last there, and also on the rainy December day when we went there to see the famous Christmas garland.

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15th century Gatehouse

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The house has extensive grounds. In the 16th century there were two parks and orchards. The 1730s estate map also shows a bowling green, and the dovecote of the first photo. This dates from around the end of 16th century. The lantern top provided access for the birds, which were of course cropped for meat.

The gardens we see to today were most shaped in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and extend to around 6 acres: lovely even on a wet, and gloomy Cornish day.

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Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

Windswept On Llanddwyn Island

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I’ve chosen a very literal interpretation of Paula’s theme at Black & White Sunday. First of all I thought you could not get any ‘lower-lying’ than at sea level, at least not without immersion in said sea. And then I thought of Marram grass being laid low in the gale, and how I was attracted by its bowing texture.

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And then I thought of the sand beneath our feet:

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These photos were taken last Christmas on a beach walk to Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey, North Wales. You can see more about the island HERE.

 

Black & White Sunday: low-lying

First Allotment Spuds ~ Belle de Fontenay

Next to my excitement in turning over a well-rotted compost heap, comes the joyous anticipation of lifting the first potatoes. Will they have grown well? Will the slugs  and other pests have got in there first and had a feast? But no. Here they are – somewhat irregular in shape due to the long, long dry spell with only two or three rain showers to spur them on – lovely Belle de Fontenay.

This is an heirloom variety introduced in France in 1885. Pale yellow, firm, waxy – ideal for steaming or boiling, their flavour apparently improving with keeping , although I cannot verify that bit as we generally eat as I dig. And as well as arriving early, these pommes de terre have other obliging qualities. They don’t mind what kind of soil they are grown in, and they seem to love my allotment, which given its unyielding soil, is a huge plus.

This year I planted most of the potatoes on the ground I’d covered with several inches of partially rotted compost back in the autumn. I also sprinkled in some biochar and fish, blood and bone meal before planting in April.  This was a half and half no-dig enterprise, in as much as the overwintering compost cover saved me from having to dig over the whole plot as I would have done in the past.  I didn’t dig trenches either, just a row of holes, one for each potato.

The ultimate no-dig method would be to simply bury the spuds by hand in the compost layer, thereafter adding more compost to earth them up. But then that requires an awful lot of compost.

Anyway, compromise is everything when it comes to allotment gardening.

The spuds in the photo were delicious, steamed and shared last night with  good friends from Buffalo, Jack and Kathy, who come each year like swallows to spend the summer in Wenlock. Also on the menu was Chicken Hymettus (recipe below), and also from the allotment, finely  sliced greens (Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, beet leaves, Greyhound cabbage), Onward peas, lightly steamed, and served with  a walnut and parsley pesto sauce.

 

Hymettus Chicken (serves 4)

chicken portions cut in half if large – I used thighs as they were

limes – juice and zest of 3 (or 2 lemons)

saffron strands – a good pinch

oil and butter for frying

honey – 2 tablespoons preferably light and runny though I used gooey dark African

thyme – 2 teaspoons fresh chopped/ 1 level teaspoon dried

mint – 2 tablespoons chopped

salt and pepper

almonds flaked – a handful

 

Prick skin of chicken pieces, place in shallow dish and pour over lime juice and zest. Marinate in the fridge for 1-2 days, turning meat occasionally.

When ready to cook, put saffron in a cup and add 4 tablespoons boiling water and leave for 20 mins.

Lift chicken from marinade with slotted spoon and fry in butter and oil till golden brown all over.

Strain saffron and mix liquid with honey and the remaining marinade. Pour over chicken, add thyme (I actually used Greek oregano), half the mint, and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.  Toast the almond flakes and to serve, sprinkle over the dish with the rest of the mint.

This recipe works well cooked a day in advance and then reheated.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday