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The Royal Wedding in Parwich

The Royal wedding will soon be upon us – let’s hope the wonderful weather continues for the day and that after the wedding the press displays great restraint and allows the young couple some peace and privacy.

Meanwhile, here in Parwich the day is being celebrated in style, although, Friday being changeover day it will be business as usual for us all here at Orchard Farm. We will do our best though! We will have our television on permanently and guests leaving and arriving on Friday are most welcome to arrive as early as they like/leave as late and watch the celebrations on our relatively small TV screen. Poor Janet and Georgie will be busy cleaning most of the day but no doubt they will have their respective tellies on upstairs and down in the two barns so won’t miss all the action and as always we’ll keep them and any guests well plied with coffee and cakes.

Our guests however may be more attracted by what the village can offer, and to see the wedding on a big screen. I have checked with the organisers who say they would be delighted to welcome any of our guests to join in as much as possible (although they would need to know in advance about barbecue numbers…).

I reproduce the programme below, courtesy of the village blog.

9.30am – Memorial Hall opens
11am – Royal Wedding on the big screen in the Memorial Hall
Refreshments served
12.45pm – Judging of Children’s Fancy Dress Competition
1pm – BBQ at Parwich Legion
2.30pm – Wedding Cake & Sherry
Evening Entertainment at Parwich Legion with Chris Houlihan
9pm – Fireworks on the hill

And then we all have another Bank Holiday weekend!

Brand New Nesting Box Seeking Suitable Tenant

Just checking all is clearThe current excitement in our world if not yet  in the birds’ world, is a brand new nesting box, complete with wi-fi camera, recently bought from the RSPB shop at Carsington. We’ve been promising ourselves one ever since we had so much interest and enjoyment last year watching the blue tits in our (camera-less) nesting box under under the plum tree.We’re a bit late in the season, as the first batch are all happily nesting already but we are hoping that perhaps we may catch the attention of a second lot although deep down we know it will probably not be until next year at the earliest.

Whilst we know this, there is still the wild hope that one day soon  we will turn on the  television and find we are looking at a nest; at present we stare into a bright and horribly pristine wooden box. with absolutely nothing in it at all. The new box is up on the shed wall opposite the house and visible from both barns.  Only a few feet away from the brand new box a pair of blue tits is very happily nesting in a hole in the wall,  which is probably far cosier and certainly more private. John captured some shots of them yesterday, three of which are here.  You can see these and many more on our Photo Gallery.dsc06473Quite pleased with his little home in the wall

Chuy’s Oat and Raisin Cookies

I did warn that publishing the Fake Bakewell recipe had started something… It probably isn’t surprising because so many of our guests love good food, and many love cooking, and for many the opportunity to cook meals or bake treats in a well-equipped kitchen with no other pressure on the time is a real, relaxing treat. (OK, it may not be for everybody, but we are no longer surprised at the number of guests for whom this has been one of many highlights of their stay in both Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns).

The day after the Bakewell tart post, the lovely Chuy, staying in Tom’s Barn, brought us a plate of very delicious biscuits she had made. One nibble of a cookie rapidly turned into a three cookie binge and I just had to ask if she would share the recipe. I shall certainly add it now to my  Friday changeover day repertoire, and possibly others will soon like to make the cookies themselves as well, so here it is. John set up photographing it – note the artistic structure (but as yet no washing up liquid, the biscuits being far to good to waste).

Oat and Raisin Cookies

Preheat the over to 170’C (325’F) Gas 3.      4 baking trays lined with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.

  • 270g unsalted butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 160g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 380g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1tsp bicarb
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 110g rolled oats
  • 220 g raisins or possibly chopped dates

Beat the butter and sugars thoroughly and cream until light and fluffy (either in a mixer or using a hand held electric whisk).

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing them well in (if necessary scraping the mixture down from the sides of the bowl). Turn the speed of the mixer down to low and stir in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, salt, bicarb and cinnamon; then add the oats and mix well. Add this  to the butter mixture and beat well. Add the raisins and stir in with a wooden spoon until they are evenly distributed.

Place in equal sized dollops of the biscuit mixture, spaced well apart, onto the four baking trays. (The recipe says it makes 20 but they are enormous so I would suggest making perhaps 40 instead. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes (probably less if you’ve made the cookies smaller so do keep checking in case they start burning) or until golden brown brown and firm.

Take them out of the over and leave to cool slightly on the trays before turning them out onto wire trays to cool completely.

Steak and Kidney Pudding Cooked in the Slow Cooker

Don’t worry, our Tom’s Barn blog has not suddenly transformed itself into a Cookery Corner but last night’s recipe has started something…

However, before I embark on any more, including already one from a guest (and hopefully in time perhaps some/many more!) allow me  to write out the recipe for the Steak and Kidney Pudding recipe I rather tantalisingly only alluded to but didn’t include in a post I wrote in March 2010 having successfully made one while we were staying in Tom’s Barn.

We couldn’t understand why there had been so many hits onto this page until I discovered there had been a lot of web chat about S&KPs and whether one could or not make them in a slow cooker and whether one had to cook the meet beforehand. Had I been more switched on I could have come to the rescue: yes, you most definitely can make a (most delicious) steak and kidney pudding  in a slow cooker, and no, you don’t have to cook the meat first…

The recipe below is taken from a wonderful book by Dianne Page “Slow Cooking Properly Explained” published by Right Way (an imprint of Constable and Robinson). I think I bought it from Amazon.

Steak and Kidney Pudding Recipe:

  • 175g (6oz) self-raising flour
  • 85g (3oz) shredded suet
  • Pinch salt
  • 450g (1lb) lean stewing steak, cut into cubes
  • 225 (8oz) ox or lamb kidney, cut into cubes
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Freshly milled black pepper

Method:

Preheat the slow cooker on HIGH. Grease a 1litre (1 3/4pt  pudding bowl (greasing is important otherwise it won’t turn out, as I discovered!)

Mix together the flour, suet and seasoning with enough water to make a soft dough. Reserve 1/3 for the lid and roll out the remainder on a lightly floured surface. Use this to line the pudding basin.

Mix together the steak, kidney, onion, salt and pepper and pack carefully into the pastry-lined pudding basin. Add 2 tbsp water. The pudding should not quite fill the bowl to allow room for the crust to rise

Roll out the remaining pastry to make the lid. Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and press the lid into position. Cover with *greased greaseproof paper or foil.

*I tore off enough to paper to allow me to fold a seam across the middle to give space for the pastry to rise, and sealed the paper down by tying string tightly round the rim.

*To avoid scalding yourself, fold a length of foil which you leave under the bowl with the ends loose at the top to lift the bowl in and out.

Using this lifting foil strap lower the bowl into the slow cooker. Pour in enough boiling water to come half way up the side of the basin.        Put the lid on, and cook on HIGH for 6-8 hours. Resist any temptation to peep!

Take the bowl out of the slow cooker, again using the foil lifting strap . Remove the greaseproof paper, and turn the S&KP out onto a warmed plate. Serve with some vegetables that you can cook at the last moment.

Tom’s & Douglas’s Barn Favourite Recipes

‘Cakes to Die For’ or ‘Heaven on a Plate’

Neither of these descriptions are mine and modesty almost prevents me repeating them but we get so many complimentary remarks about the cakes that our guests seem to enjoy, and so many rather shy requests for the recipe, that we have decided I should start a kind of recipe corner.

Just how we’ll do it most effectively still remains to be worked out but just to get the ball rolling John and I felt we needed to start otherwise it might just remain a good idea bubbling away under the surface. Being keen on photography, John is going to try his hand at food photography, but as he has heard that to get the best effect the food needs to be cold and preferably smeared with washing up liquid for a nice appetizing sheen, maybe he won’t be very successful because we are far too greedy to spoil good food! But to start with, I am using one of the photos Jeremy Brough took for our website. (He certainly doesn’t use washing up liquid.)

So here goes… The recipe I was last asked for was for one of own family favourites, and what we call the ‘fake Bakewell’ (you will soon see why). I really am giving away secrets but having already happily shared it with so many of our guests I am quite happy to show it to some more.

I will give you the ‘recipe’ I use. It is just in my head and as you will see it is not very scientific. And you will notice that being older than some I still think and cook in pounds and ounces. If you think of the basic recipe as being for every egg 4 oz of everything else you can make the size you want. I always make this in a large Aga baking tray so I use the basic recipe times four. For normal family use one would probably do half, i.e. 2 eggs etc.

Recipe:

  • 1lb butter ideally, for a better taste but soft margarine is fine
  • I lb sugar
  • *1/2lb ground rice
  • *1/2lb ground almonds
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Almond extract
  • Flaked almonds
  • Short crust pastry (either a bought block or made with 1lb flour)
  • About half jar jam (preferably home made and sharpish like raspberry, blackcurrant or homemade plum)

Method:

Roll out the pastry and line the tin you are using. Ideally put it into the fridge but I can’t say I always do.

Melt the butter/marge and sugar in a saucepan on a lowish heat, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar completely dissolves into the melted butter. Add the ground rice/almonds and leaving it on the heat, stir for a minute or two until it is all well mixed and smooth.  Take off the heat, and while it is cooling briefly spread the jam over the base of the pastry.

Then stir into the mixture the beaten eggs and a generous teaspoon and a bit (to size and taste) of almond extract.

Pour the mixture onto the pastry. Sprinkle generously with flaked almonds and pop it into the oven. In the Aga (2-door) I put it on the bottom grid of the top oven with the cold plain sheet over, for about 25-30 minutes+.  I can’t help with gas or electric temperatures but I would have thought whatever you’d normally use for something similar.

*It is perfectly delicious – and I rather think better – made with just ground rice and no ground almonds at all, but I often do half and half. I’ve never (yet) done it with all ground almonds.

The long awaited new oak tables for Tom’s Barn

Tom's Barn bedroomWe had long been planning, although somewhat dreamily, about updating the side tables and bedside cabinets in Tom’s Barn. They were all part of the original furniture eleven years ago when Tom’s Barn was born; they had seen good service but even eleven years ago were not exactly from the toppest of ‘top drawers.

Our dream were rapidly forced into reality when the last inspector agreed all too readily with our suggestion that they were due for replacement, and also the easy chair which although still relatively new and expensively upholstered had never recovered from an ‘expert’ dry cleaning by a firm in Sheffield which seemed to do nothing but accentuate any slight marks already there (and why we had it cleaned in the first place)…

Tom's Barn: new coffee tableWe rapidly found a new chair made by a furniture maker in Brailsford,  and that has been in the barn for some time now (unfortunately not too visibly in these photo. We also asked a local joiner to make some oak furniture (coffee table, two side tables and two bedside cabinets). The six weeks we were quoted stretched into about ten, but never mind, handmade and all looking brilliant they arrived today  – so we hadn’t been dreaming all along, after all…!

Tom's Barn sitting roomFortunately it was changeover day, so in went the new stuff, and out came the old. And guess where it went? All to our house!! We are always quite happy with the cast-offs, and can guarantee they’ll be comfortable even if past their sell-by date.

A few of John’s photos are here but for masses more taken by John this afternoon, look at our gallery.

The Heron and the Fish That Didn’t Get Away

SONY DSCIt’s not exactly in Parwich, but we do urge you when you are next in London with a few hours to kill, to consider visiting the London Wetlands Trust site in Barnes.

For a start you wouldn’t believe you were in London at all; it kept reminding us rather of the Norfolk Broads. Daughter Ruthie took us there for the day last Sunday – a wonderfully warm, sunny day, just perfect for strolling through the different areas and watching all the birds. As you can imagine, John was in his element, with his interest in birds and photography: his camera was almost red hot  and even I got somewhat carried away with my little mobile phone camera…

SONY DSCThe highlight of a lovely day was half an hour spent watching a heron as he eventually speared a fish. We were very close, but the heron was concentrating so intently he did not seem to notice, or mind. The scene was so gripping I completely forgot my camera, but fortunately John did not. He took a series of photographs over the thirty or so minutes we watched and waited, almost as patiently as the heron itself. Do have a look at the ‘Fish That Didn’t get Away’ in our Photo Gallery.

SONY DSCYou will see how the heron ‘stalked’ the fish – the only movement being an almost imperceptible tautening of his long neck, until startlingly suddenly, he struck. Up he came out of the water with this largish fish, flapping and wriggling, speared between his clamped beaks. The heron then very patiently, without letting the fish wriggle away, managed to manoeuvre it round until it was lengthways on, headfirst.

With an enormous gulp he swallowed it, and it was a struggle to get the thing down. We watched as the outline of the large shape gradually went down his throat as the heron kept scooping gulps of water up in his beak, and swallowing as one might with a large pill that wouldn’t go down.SONY DSC

What a sight! We felt so privileged to have seen it, and what is more in such a wonderful peaceful, watery setting just minutes from all the bustle and urban noise that is London.SONY DSC

Trying to catch up with spring

GoldfinchesTrying to catch up generally… We have been away for a few days and have let things stand still a bit too long for comfort on the blog front (I hasten to say everything else has pretty well gone on as normal thanks to Janet and the well-oiled Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns machinery!). Thanks to our online booking system, emails and Janet, it is very much easier to go away these days but certain things do get neglected such as keeping the blog up to date.

Another view of the pondThe house on the right, the slopes of Parwich Hill behindNow I have an iPhone, with time and experience, I should be able to carry on with everything as if we were sitting at home. Sadly, so far it is not quite like that. Technology is all very well, but so often silly glitches prevent things working as they should, if at all, and to date we can now receive emails on the iPhone but not send them (If anyone knows the solution, we shall be eternally grateful!).

More goldfinchesMagnolia StellataMeanwhile, the whole point of this post was to point you in the direction of the latest bunch of garden photos John has taken, last Friday morning before we left for a long weekend in London (more of which later). Of course now, 5 days later it all looks far less advanced in these snaps than it actually does today. However, everything is looking wonderfully lush and sporing like. Everywhere is covered in white, with the blackthorn blossom all over the countryside, and in the garden the magnolia, the damson and plum blossom, and a beautiful osmanthus. Dotted everywhere are the vibrant colours now of the pansies and tulips and the last daffodils.Spring daffodils

Parwich Duck Race

dsc04890dsc04886dsc04885dsc04876dsc04868Today dawned grey but improved steadily and by the time the duck race was due to start it felt positively summery. People walked  from Parwich across the fields, others biked and some drove. The children played happily in or near the water and the adults basked in the warm sunshine.

At 2pm this afternoon three hundred plastic ducks were launched just above the ford; the journey was not straightforward as most seemed to head straight for the banks and had to be encouraged back into the flow; the fastest seemed to be those that keeled over and floated on their sides (there might even be a moral there).

The three winners were the first to reach the second of two nets stretched across the stream below the ford crossing, where Carl stood in his wellies waiting patiently to identify the first three through. They didn’t just have to get there, they had also to float through a hole in the first net to be caught by the second.

Strangely the second duck to make it through happened to belong to the organiser, Mick, but as he was nowhere near the finishing line there could be no question of foul play. Strangely too, I didn’t win a prize. Normally I seem to but maybe 2011 will not be my year. Each duck cost £1, and the whole idea was to raise money to finance the St George’s Day parade later in the month. So, £300 raised and a lot of fun enjoyed into the bargain…

A Very Special Visit

When we were children my brother sister and I were always told that April 1st jokes stopped at noon. Was that just our parents feeling they couldn’t cope with more than half a dayful of what we children thought were hilariously convincing jokes or is that idea widely held? Anyway, assuming it’s well after noon we’ll be spoilsport enough to let cats out of bags…

We were very amused by a wonderful April 1st spoof on the Parwich blog entitled a Very Special Visit which can’t have taken in too many people but has entertained a lot.  We had absolutely nothing to do with the article although we weren’t surprised to see it as the blog team had very courteously checked beforehand that we  wouldn’t mind if it were published.

And, no, of course we didn’t mind and no, sadly, Tom’s Barn is not the favoured Royal honeymoon destination. It would be tempting but not quite truthful to say the couple tried too late and been turned away – April and May have been booked for ages but crucially they didn’t even try unless they were already disguising their identity by using an alibi! We have turned couples away literally by the score.

I am sure it would have been a happy choice and that Prince William and Catherine would  love Tom’s and Douglas’s Barns – would love the privacy and comfort, peace and quiet and would love Parwich but I am equally sure that to their loss they very possibly haven’t even heard of us; between us we’ve slipped up there! No doubt throughout the years ahead there will be many occasions when they would just love to be able to escape totally, away from all the pressure and demands and publicity that will face them.

Meanwhile, coming back to weddings, and Royal ones at that, there is a great programme for the royal wedding celebrations arranged here for the day (Friday 29th April). I will write more about that here soon, but meanwhile, you can check out the details on our electronic village notice board otherwise known as the Parwich blog.


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