Goodbye January

For once I’m not actually glad to see the back of January, I am sure many will disagree with me, but I will argue my case!

January for me has supplied an endless amount of beautiful countryside scenery. It has been cold, so very cold, some nights reaching temperatures of -8°C. As a result there has been a velvety, sparkling carpet laid delicately across the South Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside. For me the ultimate bonus of this weather has meant that dog walks have been clean, yes that’s right, there has been no mud for me in January. I detest coming home with a Dalmatian looking more like a chocolate Lab, sporting the ‘eau de wet dog aroma’, wellies caked in mud (yes I know this is what they are for, but still), my hair forever looking like I crawled through a bush backwards and specks of mud splodged onto my face trying its hardest to blend in with my freckles!

So I fully embraced the cold albeit with my thermals, gloves, hat and 2 pairs of socks and just have to share with you all some of the photographs I captured.

 

I have to post the below separately, as I am a little bit proud of this particular image winning a photography competition with The English Garden Magazine via Instagram. Thank you once again for picking me, I am still over the moon.

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How was January for you?

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All images owned by fortheloveofpeas

 

Garden reflection

November has come round in a flash. Up until last weekend the weather was rather pleasant, we hadn’t had much rain at all and even though night temperatures had dropped, the days were still mild. However last weekend began the assault of storm Angus! With it’s timely arrival came rain, rain and more rain. Coupled nicely together with an ice cold wind, my trips to the stables to feed my beloved pony ended with my face feeling quite, shall we say, fixed. Yes, that’s right, between the wind and the rain I think I ended up with a cheap version of a facelift.

Days like these, give an opportunity to reflect on the garden and allotment for 2016. If you haven’t done this yet, may I recommend to do so on a squishy, comfortable sofa preferably in front of a fire with your dog gently snoring on you. Have paper and pen to hand to make notes and plans for the next year and of course an obligatory stash of seed catalogues to pour over.

In the flower garden

I was really pleased with growing Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) from seed this year. The two varieties I tried were ‘Vesuvius’ and ‘Ladybird’, both flowering throughout the summer, in fact the Vesuvius, right up until last week when the frosts finally got it. These are easy to grow from seed. Perfect for a pot on the patio or as a bedding filler (especially raised beds where they can elegantly trail over the edges).

 

The sunflowers (a cut flower mix) produced sturdy plants, whose cheery faces made a great addition inside. Tagetes (African Marigold) was also a pleasure to grow, providing big blooms at a lower height. I was impressed with ‘Pineapple Crush’, the colour was very unusual for a flower and quite rightly named, it is the exact shade of a pineapple!

At the allotment

Looking back at my plans for this year, I may have been a little over ambitious. I wanted to grow ten varieties of tomatoes…I managed two! In 2017 I probably won’t aim quite as big but I think four varieties would be suitable yet doable. I have had great success with both ‘Flamingo’ and ‘Sunbaby’ and will probably be growing them again as they were heavy cropping but also tasty. Broad Bean ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’ was a success in the fact that this year I had beans to taste (in 2015 my plants were completely destroyed by black fly), however six plants weren’t enough when I realised how much I actually liked broad beans, so I’ll be growing more next year. The unusual yellow wax bean ‘Orinoco’ did really well, and I actually grew this in pots as the plants are compact.

 

All photographs provided by fortheloveofpeas. Seeds purchased from Chiltern Seeds http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/

Pub lunch at The Pack Saddle

I love a pub lunch at the weekend, especially in the autumn, when its nice to settle down in a cosy pub with the fire roaring whilst you tuck into a hearty lunch.

We recently paid a visit to The Pack Saddle in Mapledurham, a privately owned pub fairly local to us but one we haven’t been to before.

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We enjoyed starters of the grilled halloumi and selection of bread. The bread came with garlic, basil and chilli flavoured butters which were just the most delicious accompaniment.

For mains we picked the Pack Saddle beef burger and minute steak saltimbocca, both were outstanding. Presentation of all dishes was high, I am afraid I am one of those that can be easily won over by chips turning up in baskets and food presented on slates! All dishes were packed with flavour and the only thing I was disappointed in, was the fact I was too full for dessert!

Last but not least I must also commend The Pack Saddle staff, they were all so friendly and attentive. The food arrived quickly and I cannot wait to return.

Read more about The Pack Saddle on their website here: http://www.thepacksaddle.com/

Easy Halloween Fairy Cakes

Autumn not only brings us the change of season, but also fun events such as Halloween and Bonfire Night. In the spirit I felt I should make a selection of Halloween themed fairy cakes. These are super easy to do for both children and adults, here’s how:

Recipe 

You can use any basic fairy cake recipe. I used the following ingredients, all mixed into a bowl. Spoon into fairy cake cases and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown, temperature 180°C.

225g self raising flour, 225g softened unsalted butter, 225g castor sugar, 3 small/medium eggs, 2 tablespoons of semi-skimmed milk.

Decorating

Here is the fun part! Once your cakes have cooled from the oven you can decorate them with any Halloween theme you like. This year I have made a selection of monster faces and white chocolate mice toppers. Marshmallows can make good ghosts, or if you fancy something more challenging why not try making pumpkins from roll out icing!

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The monster faces have been made using Aero mint balls and melted milk chocolate.

 

Have you baked anything Halloween inspired? Would love to hear from you.

fortheloveofpeas x.

10 things I love about autumn

Yes, it’s true, with the weather taking a chillier turn over the past week I now feel it is time to wave goodbye to the summer months and readily welcome autumn with open arms. For any of you that know me will know that I have a full membership as a sun worshipper and my most hated weather is rain, but this year I am looking at autumn with optimism and trying to see the positives of a less favoured time of year, so here goes my top ten…

  1. Number one has got to be the change of colours. Before we embrace the bleak look of winter and the trees look depressingly bare, autumn throws us a medley of warm tones from bright sun yellow to deep gold to burnt orange to berry red!
  2. As much as I do love my summer wardrobe, there is something comforting and homely about wearing jumpers, boots and woolly hats.
  3. Going from comfortable clothing to comfort food! Autumn food is wholesome and hearty, its the season to eat things like pies, sausages and mash and casseroles!
  4. Make use of the evenings drawing in, now that we are unable to spend long evenings in the garden with Pimms, it is perhaps time to be a little bit more productive! I have some great ideas for crafting projects so make sure you check back on the blog to see what I have been up to!
  5. Leaves, yes leaves! Country walks in the woods with the crisp leaves underneath your welly boots.
  6. Bonfires and fireworks. Remember remember the 5th of November! This year bonfire night falls on a Saturday, which makes it more practical for attending local displays. Also hoping that it means the displays will be condensed into 2/3 days as our beautiful Dalmatian is NOT a fan!
  7. Mulled wine, as soon as it turns cold it is acceptable to drink mulled wine and red wine (white for the summer, red for the winter in my book). Every pub that has a fire should have a plentiful stock of mulled wine all autumn/winter long.
  8. TV, there’s no denying it the programme options get much better at this time of year.
  9. The cooler weather does make it easier to go running with the dog and means that I am not entering the gym already looking hot and bothered!
  10. Apologies to any Bah Humbugs but I have to add this as number ten, the countdown to Christmas and the festive season is on!

 

I hope you have enjoyed the read, I’d love to know what makes you love the autumn season, comments below 🙂

Homemade Cupcakes

I have made an autumn resolution – there needs to be more baking and cooking in my life!

With the nights drawing in, I will be forced to spend less time in the garden and will be filling my time with more homemade goodies from the kitchen instead. As well as experimenting with cakes I am hoping to make my own pies and turn my hand to curries too. So first off the mark here we have homemade cupcakes with a twist!

Ingredients:

110g softened butter or margarine, 110g caster sugar, 2 free-range eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 110g self-raising flour, 1-2 tbsp milk

Method: 

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line 2x 12 hole fairy cake tins with paper cases. Into a mixing bowl measure the flour, caster sugar and butter. Lightly beat the eggs and add to the bowl along with the vanilla extract and milk. Using an electric whisk mix together all ingredients until you have a smooth consistency. Spoon the mix into the paper cases so they are roughly half full. Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. To check they are cooked through insert a wooden skewer and ensure it comes out clean.

 

I made both a chocolate mix and a vanilla. For the chocolate add in 3 tbsp of cocoa powder and another tbsp or two of milk to ensure the mix is not too thick.

Now, here is the twist! I wanted the cupcakes to not be the standard cupcakes but instead take more of a traditional victoria sponge format. So with some of the cakes that had not risen as much, I pushed them out of the cases and added them as toppers on the other cakes. In between I added both raspberry jam (I prefer raspberry to strawberry) and buttercream to ensure they held together and also to create the typical victoria sponge look. For some of the other cakes I removed them from their cases, sliced them in half and added the jam and buttercream in the centre, then popped them into new cases so they looked presentable. And here they are finished…ta da!

Topped with buttercream icing and milk chocolate chips, these not only looked good but tasted incredible!

Monday Night Indulgence!

So on Monday night it was girls date night which we try to do once a month, normally we are after the savoury option of Sushi but this Monday called for something different.

With two of the group having been to Treatz before and wanting to show the other two the new and exciting world of dessert parlours, we put our trust in their hands and arranged an evening of sweet indulgence.

We visited Treatz in Reading and basically you can create your very own whopper of a dessert, mixing and matching toppings and ice cream flavours. The menu is extensive to say the least! Following good guidance from our more experienced dessertiers we opted for the large waffle topped with Nutella (my favourite thing in the entire world), banana slices, crushed nuts and snickers ice cream – highly recommended!!!

 

All photos belong to fortheloveofpeas, all comments and opinions are my own.