Monday, 27 April 2015

Lapsang Souchong Marzipan Fruit Cake

On a recent visit to Lostwithiel, as it was late in the day and most of our usual haunts were closed, we ventured into Sew and Sew Vintage Haberdashery for some afternoon refreshments. Not as strange as it may sound as there was a small tea shop nestling amongst the fabrics and the skeins of wool. I was tempted by a piece of marzipan fruit cake and I was glad I did. I'm a sucker for marzipan and the cake really hit the spot for me. So much so that I asked the lady serving us if she had the recipe. "No", she said, "but my friend here made it. She'll help". And indeed she did, by pointing me in the direction of Nigella Lawson's book, How to be a Domestic Goddess.

A quick Google when we got home and the recipe was located. It looked good but had a difficult to get ingredient, dried pears (soaked overnight in White Rum). Another Google and I came across a variant, using dried sour dried cherries soaked in Lapsang Souchong tea). I loved the sound of the smokiness of the tea combining with the almonds of the marzipan. But sour dried cherries proved to be as elusive to obtain locally as dried pears: however, I did have dried cranberries to hand. So, I gave it a go and here's the recipe for Lapsang Souchong Marzipan Fruit Cake, adapted by me from the adaption by of the original Marzipan Fruit Cake recipe from Nigella Lawson. It's easy to make and tastes pretty good.

500ml Lapsang Souchong tea (strong)
250g Sultanas
125g Dried cranberries
65g Desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
400g Marzipan
65g Ground almonds
Zest of 1 large orange
220g Plain flour
125g Caster sugar
125g Butter (softened)

3 large eggs
2 teaspoons Orange Blossom water

The quantities above were enough for a 2lb loaf tin and a little extra over for a 'taster' in a 1/2lb tin, both lined with grease proof paper.

 1. Cut the marzipan into small cubes and put in a freezer for at least 1 hour. This makes sure that the marzipan stays in chunks during the mixing process.
2. Make a strong brew of lapsang souchong (loose leaf not tea bag!)with boiling water in a jug. Mix the sultanas and cranberries in a large mixing bowl and pour the tea over. Leave to soak for 30-40 minutes (or until the cranberries are soft) and then drain the excess liquid away.

3. Preheat the oven to 140C. 
4. Beat together the almonds, orange zest, flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Add the drained fruit, orange blossom water and cubes of marzipan and mix well by hand, but not too vigorously.
5. Spoon the rather thick cake mix into the tin and spread to the edges. It doesn't rise that much so the tin can be filled pretty much to the top.
6. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour 45 minutes. I kept an eye on it after 90 minutes and kept checking it was cooked by the old 'cleaning knitting needle' test. I covered the top with foil to prevent burning for the last 10 minutes or so. The smaller 'taster' was done in around an hour.

7. Leave to cool in the tin and then wrap in cling-film until needed.

And here's what the inside of the 'taster' looked like. OK, not symmetrical but I just slapped the mix in the smaller tin when it became apparent that I had some left over. The 'real thing' was destined for a local community 'pop-up cafe'. so we'll be counting bodies tomorrow.


Saturday, 25 April 2015

An antidote to power politicians

Last night we held a General Election Hustings in our local community centre (the Old School) to which all the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for the North Cornwall Constituency had been invited. The candidates are:

  • Scott Mann - Conservative Party
  • John Whitby - Labour Party
  • Dan Rogerson - Liberal Democrat Party
  • Amanda Pennington - Green Party
  • Julie Lingard - UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • Jeremy Jefferies - Mebyon Kernow – the party for Cornwall
  • John Allman - Let Every Child Have Both Parents
  • Our chairman for the evening, Nigel, wondering whether anyone is going to turn up.
    General Election rules (and there are many of them) dictate that all PPCs have to be invited to events such as these but they don't have to attend. In the event, we almost had a full set, with only the Mebyon Kernow candidate being a no-show. A pity, as I was particularly interested in hearing what they had to say.

    The format was quite simple:
    *  People submitted questions ahead of the event and the chairman made a selection based on the issues most commonly raised.
    *  The candidates were given 3 minutes for an opening statement.
    *  The chairman, or the individual submitting the question, posed the question and the candidates had the opportunity to answer.
    *  Then questions were open to the audience for comment and further development.

    It really was a successful and enjoyable evening. It was well supported (standing room only), well chaired (started and finished to the minute), wide ranging questions (with the NHS, transport and local control of affairs being the prominent concerns) and a panel of politicos who behaved themselves. Apart from a couple of relatively minor lapses, the questions were answered seriously with no personal point scoring, a complete contrast to what we see on our TVs every night of this campaign.
    Getting ready for the first question.
    A lighter moment.
    It's very easy to be cynical about politicians (and believe me, I know all about cynicism) but it really was refreshing seeing a bunch of hopefuls in action. Although I disagree vehemently with some of their policies, they came across as a group of individuals believing in what they were promoting and, as far as I could tell, with no personal gain in mind. They were the antithesis of the commonly held view of politicians 'only being in it for their own benefit'. If only the same could be said about others of their ilk.

    Thursday, 23 April 2015

    Apparently there's s a General Election coming..............

    And it's a time of platitudes, empty rhetoric, personal smears, fear mongering and playground bickering. Sadly, what's missing seems to be any resemblance of constructive political debate by any of the major parties. My reaction to most of what I hear and read varies from.....


    And I guess I am not alone. I may be imagining it but this mind-numbing display puts this one as the worst run up to a General Election that I can remember. For the record, my first taste of voting was in the 1966 General Election when I put my cross against the name of the Labour candidate in the Caerphilly constituency, Onesimus (Ness) Edwards. I have a fair idea of what Ness would have thought about the 'Labour' policies being promoted by Ed Milliband. I also have a fair idea of what he would make of the Tories: he wouldn't be surprised as it's what they've always done and what they always will.

    Tuesday, 21 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 2

    A delightful day on the neighbouring island of Rousay. Just a thirty minute crossing and access to archaeology, stunning scenery and wildlife. The internet connection at the B & B is rather temperamental and has difficulty dealing with photographs. So I'm not too sure how this post will turn out but I'll give it a go.
    1. A short eared owl sitting on a fence post at the side of the road. Not something you'd see in many other places in the UK.
    2. Looking across Rousay Sound back onto the mainland island of Orkney. Still water with reflections. 
    3. An eider duck having a munch on a crab.
    4. Another view back the mainland. The clouds look worse than they were. No more than a few spots of rain wearily on in the day but nothing of any consequence after that.
    5. The 3500 year old chambered tomb at Mid Howe. It has 23 burial stalls which were contained within a massive herring-bone stone structure. Uncovered and excavated in the 1930s, it is protected by a barn-like building. Nobody knows who was buries there but the skeletons indicate 'high status', whatever that meant within the context of the times.
    6. A few hundred yards from the tomb lies the broch of Mid Howe, which dates from around 100 AD. It is thought that it originally housed a farming/fishing family and was in use for several hundreds of years.  Over that time, the interior was remodelled and what we see today is essentially a semi, with a stone partition wall separating two 'apartments'. Building material? Just go outside and see the rock stratification on the very nearby shore and you can easily envisage the sandstone being split to fit. In the photograph, you can just make out a stone cubicle. Toilet? Fitted wardrobe? Who knows but it's interesting to speculate.
    7. A very colourful cock strutting his stuff. "Hey, look at me. You know you think I'm gorgeous. That's why you've stopped to take my picture. Don't I look great?"
    8. A rather doleful looking Grey Seal, but then, they always look miserable. Maybe that's something to do with the fact that they a singularly ungainly on land. Perhaps they are all grins and laughs when they are back in the water.
    9. The chambered tomb at Knowe of Yarso. Room for about a dozen bodies in this one. Situated on a flat crest of a hill overlooking Rousay Sound, it was certainly in an impressive position. Yarso, and others of its ilk we saw, was protected by a concrete 'bubble' which had roof lights to illuminate the interior. A great idea and one that worked. 
    10. A lone fishing boat heading back to port across the still waters of Rousay Sound.
    11. A beached boat with a fish-eye effect.
    12. Heading back to the mainland island after a great day. Barely a ripple on the water.

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 1

    Time for what has now become our regular April trip to one of the Scottish Islands. Last year it was the Outer Hebrides and this time we are returning to the Orkney Isles. We were last there around this time in 2012 and enjoyed it so much that we vowed to return. Getting there is easy: fly from Exeter to Edinburgh and then from Edinburgh to Kirkwall. The reverse is a little more convoluted as we hop from Kirkwall to Aberdeen to Manchester to Exeter.

    Our base for our sojourn again will be the excellent B & B run by Audrey Poke out in the countryside to the west of Kirkwall. Comfortable, clean and good food. What else would we want? Tomorrow we head off to one of the other islands, possibly Rousay. 
    The view from our bedroom window. In the distance are the peaks on Hoy.

    Monday, 20 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 5

    Our last full day on Orkney, at least for this trip, and what did we do? Passed through Kirkwall on our way to South Ronaldsay, the southernmost of the islands linked via causeways, to visit the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery. Thence to Deerness to the Sheila Fleet jewellery 'factory', finishing up with a 4 mile walk on the cliffs around Mull Head. All in all, another good day, with nary a drop of rain. As ever, a few photographs for illustrative purposes:

    1. Boats and lines in Kirkwall harbour.
    2. The natural anchorage of Scapa Flow was thought, at one time, to be pretty well impregnable. Until, that is, a night during WW1 when a German U-boat slipped in through one of the narrow inlets and sank a warship. After this more attention was paid to security. The photograph shows the remains of a 'block ship' that was sunk in one of the inlets, forming an effective barrier to any large vessel wanting to enter.
    3. At the beginning of WW2 the defences of the inlets were deemed to be inadequate and Churchill had something more substantial built. These 'Churchill barriers', of which there are four, were built of huge amounts of rock and rubble infill, finished off with 5 and 10 ton concrete blocks. The random placement of the 5 ton blocks helps reduce the effect of waves upon the barrier. All the barriers have a 'proper' road going over the top of them and now it is possible to drive all the way to the tip of South Ronaldsay. A little like the Florida Keys really. 
    4. Another rare Orkney bird - this one is the Concrete Footed Owl. It doesn't fly about a lot but when it does, you are advised to duck.
    5. St Margaret's Hope on the shores of Scapa Flow. Another day when the sea was calm. 
    6. A slightly out-of-focus Ringed Plover. Described in one guide I read as a 'stout' bird, this one certainly looks rather rotund. Too much snacking between meals?
    7. During WW2, Italian POWs, captured at Tobruk of all places, were detained in a large camp on Burray Island. They were 'employed' casting the concrete blocks used for the barriers. Their imprisonment wasn't too strict and they were allowed to use two Nissen huts in their camp for a chapel. It is richly painted on the inside and still visited by those detained there, and their descendants. Since our previous visit, in 2012, renovation/conservation has obviously been conducted on the murals and it is now looking much fresher and brighter. An unusual thing to come across.
    8. An obliging Wheatear - which is a corruption of White Rear as this is what you usually see of them as they fly away from you.
    9. Cliffs on our walk around Mull Head. Lots of fulmars nesting with a few gulls and kittiwakes.
    10. More cliffs and in the far distance are some of the other Orcadian Islands. This view is typical of that which accompanied us all the way around Mull Head.
    11. I was pleased to get this shot of a Great Skua, known in the vernacular of the islands as a Bonxie. And, because of its aggressive behaviour and general nastiness towards anything smaller than itself, it is also known the 'pirate of the skies'. It's top of the food chain and will tackle anything lower down. Here's a bit of trivia for word lovers: skua comes from the Faroese word 'skuvur'. And that's the sum total of my Faroese vocabulary and, I suspect, yours as well.
    12. On our 'inward' bound leg of the walk looking west. In the distance can be seen the Covenanters' Memorial at Deerness. Covenanters? Never heard of them? Then I'll enlighten you. Briefly, they were Scottish Presbyterians who objected to the imposition of the Anglican Church on Scotland by the Stuarts. Around 250 of them were being transported in December 1679 to Jamaica, to work as slaves, on the sailing vessel The Crown of London. This got caught up in a storm and was driven onto the rocks where, despite the crew being saved, most of the Covenanters on board were drowned. Being locked below decks by the captain somewhat hampered their ability to escape. The memorial stone was erected in recognition of their plight.
    13. A Greylag Goose which is a goose with pink legs and a red beak. Not to be confused with the rarer Pink Legged Goose which has pink legs and a beak with a red tip. So now you know.
    14. And with the sun setting in the west over Hoy, we say farewell to Orkney, but not for too long as we hope to return in the summer.

    Sunday, 19 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 4

    A rather cloudy start to the day and a little colder but it brightened up as the day went on.  A deliberately relatively leisurely day. Most of the day was spent in the port/harbour town of Stromness, where we had a short walk along the shore to some WW2 gun emplacements (where one of our companion's father was stationed in the war). After all that fresh air, we pottered around Stromness, spent some time in the local museum and then visited a chambered tomb and the Ring of Brogdar. Here are a few comments and photographs:
    1. Stromness is situated within the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow and is an important fishing port. This is the lighthouse across the water at one of the entrances to Scapa, the largest natural harbour in the UK and was of enormous strategic importance in both wars.
    2.  A redshank. This one forgot the Redshank Book of Etiquette and came close enough to be photographed.
    3. Lots of red sandstone around here and I found the patterns in the dry stone walls fascinating. I like the contrast of the red of the stone and the green of the lichen. The stone seems naturally pretty friable so, I presume, would be quite easy to work with.
    4. Another view across Scapa, this time towards the Isle of Hoy.
    5. Just one of the colourful small fishing boats in the harbour. I think this one was a crabber.
    6. I don't see Starbucks or Costa going in for this sort of display. More's the pity, say I.
    7. Stromness High Street on a busy Sunday afternoon. Quiet now but in its heyday it was a bustling whaling ship port and the last port of call for many ships crossing the Atlantic to Canada. Busy it wasn't but it had a nice tranquil old fashioned atmosphere. It was refreshing to see a shopping centre, if it can be described as such, completely without the large multiple stores. Of course, I don't have to live there.
    8. Lift up thine eyes and you'll spot the unnoticed - like these Viking inspired gable ends.
    9. Good on Mrs Humphreys for her hospitality. A reminder of the hazards of long voyages without Vitamin C.
    10. From a display in the Stromness museum, something definitely non-PC. Oh, what fun it was working in the hot cotton fields.
    11. The RNLI lifeboat in Stromness harbour. The last one we saw was in St Ives, just exemplifying the cover they give from north to south. GIve generously, folks, the next time someone rattles a RNLI collecting tin in front of you.
    12. An interior shot of Unstan Chambered Stalled Tomb. This is a rectilinear structure with bays separated by upright split stone slabs. The curved end bays also contained shelves. The concrete dome dates from the 1930s and is another example of a very effective style of conservation. 
    13. And finally, the Ring of Brogdar. The largest stone circle in Scotland and one enhanced by its location overlooking Loch Harry to one side and Loch Stenness to the other. It is just one part of the major archaeological site of the Ness of Brogdar. Discovered in 2008, more and more is being revealed each time the site is explored (at present the dig only goes on in the July and August of each year due to lack of funds and the weather) after being uncovered each season. We'll be coming back later on this year to see the archaeologists in action and, hopefully, take a few photographs.

    Saturday, 18 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 3

    On the face of it, quite a simple day. Get up, struggle through a large breakfast, drive 5 miles to the coast, walk three miles north to a 5000 year old village site, have a coffee, walk back, drive to a tidal island, potter around there for an hour or so, drive back to the B and B, out for dinner and then to bed.

    But that would not do justice to the ever shape-shifting scenery (as always), the archaeology, the bird life and the company. All that and excellent weather. We are really lucky in that it seems to be sunshine all the way.

    The photographs below capture a few highlights of the day. 
    1. Is that an ice cream van we can spot down there? I think it is! Yippee. Double chocolate chip all round.
    2. A stack of detached rock. A sort of mini Old Man of Hoy.
    3. Speaking of which, there it is in the distance just to the right of the Isle of Hoy.
    4. The inside of the hut reconstruction at Skara Brea. 5000 years old and fully fitted with functional furniture. And if you go outside and walk a few yards.....
    6. can see the real thing. Box beds, fitted cupboards - they are there. There are eight huts (but they think there are more to be uncovered) all pretty much following the same pattern. This is the largest....
    7. ...and this is a smaller one.
    8. No, I didn't build this pile of stone but I did add to it. On a ledge on the Brough of Birsay, a small tidal island we walked across to. It was low tide obviously. The view is towards Rousay Island.
    9. A couple of happy fulmars. They were even happier a few minutes later when they started mating.  No, I'm not an ornithological voyeur but it was a bit obvious what they were up to. Unless, of course, they were playing some sort of birdie piggy back game.
    10. A hooded crow. A proper hooded crow which you only see in northern parts of Scotland and the Islands.
    11. A shot with a wide angled lens of clouds over the Skara Brea Bay. 
    12. And finally, one I was particularly excited about - the extremely rare Moustachioed Orkney Sparrow. It only displays its extravagant plumage in the mating season, which is just about now.