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nature

Bird watching on a February morning

Today the weather was perfect: sunny, no wind and warm. Snowdrops, crocuses and the first daffodils are out. I went for a walk to the riverbank and saw several birds that appeared to be posing specially for a photo.

These first birds were in the trees and bushes.

two collared doves in tree
Collared doves
Robin on gorse
Robin on gorse
robin on bramble
Robin on bramble
goldfinch
Goldfinch

Then at the waterside were curlews, gulls, turnstones and other water birds. The water itself was like a mill pond, so still with brilliant reflections.

wading birds
Dunlin wading
TUrnstone
Turnstone
another turnstone
Another turnstone
Black-headed gull

I need to learn what the different birds are especially ones by the water. If you know what these are do tell me.

It was indeed a beautiful day for birdwatching.

recipe

Kedgeree

I’ve just made a kedgeree, a dish I enjoy but don’t make often. It takes some preparation but freezes well. I usually make enough for four, eat a couple of portions and freeze a couple. The frozen ones can be thawed and then heated in the microwave.

Ingredients

  • 500 g (approximately) smoked fish; choose thick fillets; usually this is made with haddock but smoked cod works just as well; I prefer fish that is smoked but not dyed, however when I went to the fish counter this time they only had smoked, dyed haddock so that is what I used
  • 100 – 150 g prawns; not tradionally in a kedgeree but I think they add extra taste and texture
  • 200 ml wholegrain rice; measure the rice in a jug
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • small onion finely chopped; if you are intolerant to, or dont have, onion then a finely chopped stick of celery is a good substitute
  • 100 g butter
  • 3 hard boiled eggs; although eggs are found in kedgeree recipes they can be ommitted
  • 3 heaped tablespoons chopped fresh parsley; I prefer curly-leafed parsley as it chops more finely

Start by putting the smoked fish into a saucepan, if the fillets don’t fit easily then use kichen scissors to cut them smaller. Cover the fish with plenty of water (approximately 400ml) and put onto boil. Once it boils it only needs a few minutes to cook, you can tell by putting a knife in and seeing if it easily flakes.

Cooking the smoked fish

Rinse the wholegrain rice in cold water.

While the fish is cooking, melt some butter in another saucepan and gently soften the onion (or celery), add the curry powder and cook for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the rice.

Soften the onion in a saucepan with curry powder

The fish should be cooked by now. Drain the liquid that the fish was simmered in and use this for the rice mix. Pour the liquid over the rice, return to the stove and cook as normal. Keep any spare liquid in case the liquid boils away before the rice has cooked. Cook until the rice is soft to eat.

Cook rice using fish liquid

If using eggs, hardboil them. Then peel and chop them.

While the rice is cooking, flake the fish removing any bones and discarding the skin.

FLake the cooked fish
Flake the cooked fish

Put the flaked fish into a large mixing bowl. Chop the parsley finely and add to the bowl. If using them, add the chopped hard boiled eggs. Next cut the prawns into three and add them to the bowl.

Add flaked fish, prawns and parsley to bowl
Add flaked fish, prawns and parsley to bowl

Once the rice is cooked, put this into the bowl as well and mix all togther thoroughly using a wooden spoon.

Divide the mix into four or five portions. Add slivers of butter to the top and enjoy with steamed vegetables.

This recipe was adapted from Delia Smith’s Buttery Kedgeree recipe found in her Complete Cookery Course. My version was printed in 1996.

Kedgeree with smoked haddock, prawns and parsley
Kedgeree with smoked haddock, prawns and parsley
recipe

The icing on the Christmas cake

The Christmas cake was iced a couple of days ago. I used royal icing and bought a couple of packs of it rather than making it from scratch.

I had help from my daughter and grandson – the same ones that made the cake with me.

To make the royal icing you just add water and beat it until smooth using a wooden spoon. We then poured it onto the top of the cake, trying out adding a ski slope but then just smoothing it on the sides using a round-ended knife.

using a round bladed knife to smooth the icing

Then the decorations. I had some modelling icing paste and we used that to make snowmen. We made a pond for the snowmen to stand around using icing sugar and blue food dye. Unfortunately we made the icing too thin so what started as a pond became a waterfall.

a pond on the top of the cake
the icing pond started to turn into a waterfall

I had also bought some ready-made icing decorations.

As you can see we found it hard to stop adding more and more decorations – I don’t know who added the most – my daughter or my grandson!!

the finally decorated cake

The cake is now in a cardboard cake box with the icing drying, ready to cut and eat on Christmas day. I can’t wait! Happy Christmas to everyone.

recipe

Almond paste for Christmas cake

My Christmas cake has been maturing for the last few weeks. The next stage is to cover it with almond paste. This should be done a week or two before Christmas so that the almond paste has time to dry before adding the icing which itself needs time to dry.

Our family loves almond paste so I cover the top and sides. Use half quantities if you are just covering the top of the cake.

Ingredients

ingreedients: icing sugar, ground almonds, lemon, egg, apricot jam
  • 12 oz ground almonds
  • 12 oz icing sugar
  • 1 egg lightly beated
  • juice from a lemon
  • apricot jam

Method

make a stiff dough

Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar together in a bowl. Stir in the egg and add enough lemon juice to make a stiff dough. Knead the dough lightly.

Unwrap your Christmas cake – take a moment to enjoy the wonderful smell – and place it on a cakeboard. I use one I’ve had for several years and just replace the tinfoil.

If you like you can cut some from the top of the cake to make it level.

paint on apricot jam

Using a paintbrush coat the tops and side of the cake with apricot jam (remove any lumpy pieces from the jam).

Divide the almond paste into two equal pieces. Then subdivide one of these into two.

Measure round the cake with a piece of string.

Dust the surface where you are working with icing sugar to stop the paste from sticking.

Roll out one of the quarters of almond paste so that it is the as long as half the string and as wide as the height of the side of the cake.  Do the same with the other quarter piece.

roll out for sides of cake

Carefully pick up the rolled-out paste and push onto the side of the cake. Add the other piece as well. You can push the edges together where they meet using a round edged knife. If you have a gap, then squash a spare piece of paste into it, or take a piece from where it is thicker.

Roll the remaining half of paste into a circle the size of the top of the cake. Carefully lift it onto the cake and push the edges down onto the almond paste at the side.

Don’t worry if it is not completely smooth – you can smooth it out with the icing.

I’ve put my cake in a cardboard cake box to keep the dust off and placed it in a cool room. You can put the cake into an airtight container if you have one.

cake in box for almond paste to dry

Leave the almond paste to dry for at least twenty-four hours – I’m leaving mine a week – so that oil from the almonds doesn’t leak out and turn the icing yellow.

While you are waiting for the almond paste to dry out, you can decide on how you will be decorating the cake using royal icing.

This recipe was adapted the 1972 edition of Good Housekeeping’s Easy-Stages Cook Book.

Books

Secrets of the Buckle: a tale of Grandad’s Magic Dust

The third book in the tales of Grandad’s Magic Dust, Secrets of the Buckle, has been published by Nannie RaRa.

In the previous adventure the grandchildren found the Wibble, an imaginary creature made up by Harvey. The Wibble disappeared as they watched leaving behind the stinger.

the buzzard took it
The buzzard took it

While they were searching for the Wibble the grandchildren came across two halves of a buckle. They want to join the two halves together and enlist the help of Great Grandad who explains what they need to do.

They need the stinger from the Wibble to complete their task, but Harvey has lost it – the buzzard took it.

They find the stinger and mend the buckle; but the buckle now has properties they never expected, which leads them onto another adventure.

Secrets of the Buckle is available from Amazon, either as a paperback or an ebook.

Cover of Secrets of the Buckle

All of the tales of Grandad’s Magic Dust can be found on Nannie RaRa’s Amazon author page.