Friday, 2 December 2016

Chocolate Chip Apple Cake (and Choc. Blackberry Brownies later)


1 cup butter, softened (8 oz/225 g)
1/2 cup (4 oz/115 g) white sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup water (standard breakfast cup)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups  (12 oz/ 340 g) all purpose (plain) flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda (Bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmet
2 cups apples, peeled cored and finely diced 
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


1.  Preheat the oven to 325 deg. F (165 deg C).  Grease and flour a nine or ten        inch tube pan (I used an 8"? cake tin).

2.  In a large bowl cream the butter (or margarine) with the sugar.  Beat in the        eggs then add the water and the vanilla (I found this curdled readily, so            added a few spoonfuls of sifted flour.)

3.  Stir in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg        together.  (I sifted this all first).  Beat this mixture into the creamed mixture.      Stir in the chopped apples and the chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into the        prepared pan.  (I never buy ready made choc. chips but chop up the                  requisite amount of bar chocolate - Lidls' usually.)

4.  Bake at 325 deg. F (165 deg. C) for 1 hour and 15 mins or until cake tests          done when prodded with a sharp knife near centre.  Transfer to a rack to            cool.  Makes about 16 servings.

This will freeze well (where mine is destined any minute).

Back later with the recipe for the Chocolate Blackberry Brownies.  Now I need to move vast quantities of china and wield my paintbrush.

I hope you can read this recipe.  If not, shout out and I'll type it up later. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Notes from a failed Christmas shopper

Yes, I know, it's now December and really I should have got all my Christmas shopping done, the presents wrapped etc.  I did at least write all the Christmas cards 3 weeks ago when I was on the steroids and couldn't sleep.  Money has been in short supply recently and so I haven't done much Christmas shopping yet.  I went out today with the intention of getting a few more things, but ended up with two things for ME and one present.  Then I found something else that "would do" as a gift, so it evened the score up a bit.

Now, in my defence, I just COULDN'T resist this wee Christmas lassie . . .  She wasn't expensive.  Hands up who would have weakened too. . .

Snowflake biscuit cutters - these just had to come home with me too as they will help with the Christmas Present Problem . . .

Then two presents got bought . . .

Then I spotted this book in a charity shop, and having just read and enjoyed a book of Pamela Hartshorne, bought this as well.

The mobile library arrived today.  I got three books for my husband to read and these three for me.  Hope I can find time in the run up to Christmas.

Now it's winter, the cats are cwtching up indoors as much as they can.  Little Whale gave me his best advice on present-buying - "Make sure any present has FISH in it" was his opinion.  Mmmm.  I'm still pondering over that . . .

This afternoon I have been baking - a batch of Chocolate Blackberry Brownies to be handed round at our next Fair, and a Chocolate Chip Apple Cake for the freezer.  Photo and recipe tomorrow.

I don't do cold . . .

Another bitterly cold totally frosty morning out there.  I still haven't warmed up since I went out at barely light to top up the bird feeders, as we were back after dark last night and no point in doing them then.  The birds are queuing up in the apple tree above the front feeders, and I have counted 20 blackbirds making the most of the fallen apples which were surplus to requirements but perfect for keeping them alive in such bitter weather.

We spent yesterday doing our monthly stint at Llandovery Antiques where we man the fort for a day in return for a reduction in rent, as do the other traders there.  It was NOT warm, despite heaters, and we could see our breath all day . . .

I went out for a walk, just up to the bridge over the River Towy, and this bit which was in the shade never thawed at all.  As we were driving home, the headlights showed a glittering frost already on the verges and the weedy strips down our narrow one-track lanes.

The view upstream.  Llyn Brianne reservoir, which we visited recently, is behind these range of hills (though a fair few miles beyond them).

The stump of a tree which, from memory, is something like 8 or 900 years old.  Now a home for various brambles, ivy, moss etc.

View of the church across the fields.  Now that the Fieldfares and Redwings are here, I dare say the berries on that Hawthorn will soon be gone.

One last view.

Now my husband has got a tablet to use, this has freed up the Kindle and at last I can start to read the books I have downloaded to it.  I got two new ones this week - a Phil Rickman I hadn't come across before : The Cold Calling, and the first of Ann Cleeve's Shetland novels, Raven Black.  The Phil Rickman is unputdownable of course . . .

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Starry starry night - and Hay Winter Festival.

The past two days we have been out before first light and back as the last glimmer has settled on the horizon, with stars at either end of the day.  I found myself humming Starry Starry Night as we drove home from Hay this evening, after a very enjoyable and worthwhile day with our Fleamarket stall, in the grounds of the castle.

Each evening, the moment we arrived back we were greeted by five hungry cats, demanding their supper - NOW.  Each evening, I have hurriedly doled out cat biscuits and then refilled the bird feeders with barely enough light to find them on the trees - tonight especially when we were back at past 5 p.m.  A thin sliver of marzipan light was just melting behind the hills to the West, with an angry rolling purple-edged cloud above our heads, but behind us was stygian darkness.  Then I flung together a scratch tea - my husband quite happy to have cheese on toast, whilst I opened a freezer container which had a label saying Mince 'n' Rice and two happy smiley faces - to indicate it was one of my more successful concoctions.  Well, it might have been before it got frozen and before I had this cold, but tonight it tasted of absolutely nothing at all and so I mostly ate the few spoonfuls of baked beans I had slung on the plate to keep it company.

A part of our stand at Hay today.  I was gratified that several pieces I had bought because they were interesting and unusual were bought by folk passing through (and it was busy there today). Sometimes I wonder if I am going wrong because people don't even LOOK at what I have on display, but just wander past . . .

I had several wanders round the town centre as there was a small Food Festival there.  Here is the Onion Johnnie - a rare beast these days.  I can remember them coming over from France on the ferry, riding their bikes all over Southampton selling onions.  If I hadn't recently bought a sack of onions myself, I would have had some of his.

Here is where I got my lunch.  The stall on the left had a really good selection of pies, and I plumped for the Boozy Beef :Pie, which was delicious, with wonderful pastry.  Earlier I had some Spicy Lentil Soup from the stall on the right, and also a Chicken Samosa.  All were really good.

I was very disappointed (but not surprised) when my husband has his usual bacon roll and refused point blank to let me get anything for him to try - even a lovely pork pie, or some hand-made sausages.  He is highly suspicious of any food bought when out, in case it might have "stuff" in it - by this I mean dangerous spices, onion, GARLIC (which would poison him!) or even herbs.

Inside the long markquee were lots more stalls, selling various produce, like these tasty muffins - this end of the table had savoury ones, and as you went towards the other end there were lots of different chocolate mixtures and brownies.  I was very tempted by the After Eight one, but as I had made and brought cake, I stayed my hand.  It was bad enough that I had a samosa AND a pie!

A look around Festive Hay now - in the shop selling maps, a lovely Map Man.


Above and below, the good old traditional (and excellent) butchers.  It's a while since I've seen Game hung outside a butchers like this, although the (equally traditional and excellent) butchers in Newport, Pembs, does the same at this time of year.

Above, Henry VII overlooks the town, and has a big Christmas Bow to keep him company.

There were a variety of entertainments throughout the day - a couple of Choirs (I had to walk away when the Male Voice Choir were singing, beautifully I might add, as I always get choked when I hear them.  If they had sung Myfanwy I would have been in pieces.

Here, Brecon Concert Band were playing to a captive audience.

People-watching . . .

I think that Ben Fogle was turning on the Hay Christmas Lights, but we had an hour and a half's journey, so couldn't stay to watch him.

Right, two down and one to go.  Tomorrow morning we are up at 5 a.m. and away to Carmarthen Fleamarket shortly after 6 a.m.  I hope I can find the Hereford Hop cheese I bought today for my lunch tomorrow - it is SOMEWHERE in the back of the car . . .

Friday, 25 November 2016

Snow on the mountains

There was still some snow on the Brecon Beacons as we drove past today on our way to Hay-on-Wye.  These are old photos, but better than nothing.  There was snow in the gulleys on Hay Bluff too - so they must have had a good coating last week.

As we were driving home today, the sun was out and it was beautiful.  The trees which still have leaves really light up the landscape.  Amongst a thicket of bare branches grew what is probably a Spindle Tree - anyway, it still had a shimmer of pale golden leaves and looked absolutely stunning against the dark backdrop.  I was driving or I might have been tempted to try and pull over and get a photo - but then, I've just looked to my right and seen my camera here at home, so that would have been a total waste of time!

The Field Maples still have a mass of stunning deep gold leaves, and surprisingly several Weeping Willows along the way still have their full compliment too, but one good frost and they will lose them.

Tomorrow we are back at Hay for the Winter Festival, and a little band of us will be setting up our stalls within the castle grounds (just within the walls by the little car park by the war memorial, where there are books with an honesty box).  Hopefully there will be lots of people about, wanting to part with some cash, as there is a Food Festival too (and I am planning an Alternative Lunch to the Pastrami salad roll I normally have).

Then on Sunday we have yet another Fair, the big Fleamarket on Carmarthen Showground, so roll on Monday morning when we can have a lie-in (bet we wake early!)

Oh, and as you may have guessed, the madness of Black Friday has totally passed us by.  Not much of that on display in Hay!!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Plodding on

Although I am feeling a bit brighter, I still haven't shaken this nasty bug off.  I'm still on anti-biotics, but I think the bug is still in my body causing problems as when I went to one of the Units today to have a change around of stock, I broke into a real sweat walking backwards and forwards with various bits of furniture and boxes of china.  It was the same this afternoon when we loaded the car for the first of three back-to-back Fairs.  I wish we didn't have to do them as my husband is unwell too (same bug) only he's about 3 or 4 days behind me and standing around in the cold for the next three days isn't going to bring any health benefits!  Ah well, needs must, and if tomorrow turns out to be quiet, we shall pack up early and at least we will be packed for the next couple of days so don't have to start over.

This afternoon was my last opportunity to do some baking for the Fairs (I always take cake to share round amongst friends).  The top cake is a simple Lemon Drizzle, but it's Lemon and Lime as I had both to use up.  It turned out well, though it got forgotten for 20 minutes beyond it's allotted span in the oven as I was watching Bargain Hunt on tv.  (One of our vices).

It was one of those days for baking mishaps, and this was a rather dismal failure as it got overbeaten (the mixer turned itself on when I was out of the room!) and the cracks are probably due to the mixture being too wet.  This was because when I was heating up the fat and syrup/treacle, I got distracted and it boiled over (BAD), and I added more fat to make up for what I had lost all over the stove, so I guess I got the balance wrong.  Ah well, let's hope it tastes OK.  It is a Chocolate Fruited Gingerbread.

I have the dates for Tricia's cremation, and then funeral.  I can only do one, so will be going to her funeral/spreading of her ashes.  I forgot to ask whether it was family flowers only, donations to charity, or what - my mind was thinking about the funeral and so I suppose I have been distracted all day long.

Doh, just gone to check my emails and got an order confirmation from My Hermes for the parcel I'm having picked up tomorrow, and I suddenly realized I'd not printed off their labels.  I think I need an early night.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Life goes on

I have to pick up the pieces of my life, changed as it is by Tricia's loss, and carry on, as we all must in such a situation.

I hope all the UK folks who read my blog are safe and sound and not flooded or blown away in the wake of the first storm of the season, the belligerent Angus making its presence felt with flood alerts now in place in 75 places countrywide.  I was horrified to find that the iconic thousand year old Tarr Steps on Exmoor has had the central stones washed away in the deluge.  I hope that it can be restored.

Yesterday's heavy and persistent rain would normally have kept us in the house, but unfortunately we had to take the car in for a fairly vital repair - it had refused to start the previous day and we CANNOT be stranded anywhere with a non-functioning car, so we went into town and got it sorted, and I managed a good session of Christmas shopping.

Whilst I was choosing books for gifts in The Works, I came across this one, and for £3, well, it was a no-brainer, so it became a little cheer-me-up gift.  There are some lovely recipes in it, and the chapter headings are Cheese and Dairy; Charcuterie; Bread and Pastry; Cakes, Biscuits and Cereal; Salt Curing; Rendering and Fats; Jams, Jellies and Preserves;  Pickles and Chutneys; Condiments; Air Drying; Cordials and Liqueurs; What's in My Larder.  A good selection of things to make to tempt you to get busy in the kitchen.

Now, I bought this book for a family member.  However, it was one I picked up and perused for quite a while whilst I was in Booths in Hay-on-Wye a few weeks ago.  It was full price there (£20) so I put it back, but it was a third cheaper in TK-Maxx yesterday, and I thought, oh, R would love that. Hmmm, I got home and looked and it again and realised that J would also like it, and so for the moment it is staying with ME, and I will get him a copy from one of those Amazon remainder offers (cheapskate!)  The illustrations are divine and so are the recipes, and I can recommend it.

Another treat for me, with Christmas coming up.  I usually buy just one Christmas cooking magazine and this is it for 2016.  Apart from the mouth-watering trifle on the cover, there are lots of other tempting recipes.

I have two Aged Aunties, and had intended to get a canvas printed for each with one of my best photographs, so I got myself organized and downloaded some photos onto my memory stick. However, the cheapest canvas I could have got in town was £25 in Boots.  I remembered seeing a similar outfit in Tesco, so went there, only to find them dearer by quite a bit (£39.99 cheapest).  That was out of budget, but my eye fell on printing a calendar using your own photos.  This was only £10, and so I thought I would see if I could get a seasonally appropriate group of my views together to make up a calendar, and am absolutely delighted with the result.  I pick them up next Monday, and I am delighted I have a personalised gift for them of all my favourite photos.  I hope they are well received.

As I type this up, I have an on-line auction on in the background, and in due course, I will bid on a couple of items that we are interested in for my business.  It's nearly as good as being there - it is an auction we have started attending regularly only this summer - over the English border, so not exactly next door.  We are going tomorrow anyway (day two of the sale, but nothing marked down there as it's furniture and we are Full Up with furniture at the moment).  We have some items to put in the next auction, so will deliver them and pick up anything we might have bought today.  I hope I feel a bit more human by then, as although the steroids have worn off and I got a proper night's sleep last night, I am still struggling with the chest infection and had to take a sputum sample to the Hospital today, and carry on with the anti-biotics.

So, the rhythm of workaday life has resumed, with its rewards and tribulations and - a little glimmer of light in the darkness of house selling - we have a Christmas viewing on the house, so let's hope we don't get snowed in!