February 27, 2013

5 Bratton White Horse

When I first read about the chalk horses scattered around Great Britain, I was of course, intrigued. I can't remember where I first heard about them; perhaps Atlas Obscura (a collection of some of the world's greatest and most fascinating wonders- I found The Garden of Cosmic Speculation on there!) but I'm not certain.

I digress, though. The Bratton White Horse, also known as the Westbury White Horse, is located in the Salisbury Plain. I found the approximate location in our English Heritage guide and it was mostly on the route between Salisbury and Avebury, so Paul wasn't too annoyed by my fascination with this particular weird and wonderful (he's not as keen on jumping at any festival or strange site).
But anyway. Chalk horses and other hill figures have a murky and vague history; some are prehistoric and others are quite modern, but done in a sort of homage or re-creation of the older ones.  The usual method is to cut away the top soil and expose the chalk layer, which requires maintenance over time.
As for the Bratton Horse specifically, he was excavated and restored in the 18th century. The current shape has been altered from the ancient form, even turned to face the opposite direction, and was just restored again a few years ago.

We didn't walk over to the figure due to time, but the view we got wasn't too bad, I think!

December 21, 2012

12 Salisbury Cathedral

In September we took a quick 3-day trip down to Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Avebury. To say it was a whirlwind would be an understatement and our lack of time did a great disservice to both of these amazing cities. We will get back to each of these historic places one day. In the meantime, I've got my pictures from our little jaunt.
Salisbury Cathedral sits in a lovely green space, which was filled with people enjoying the beautiful day. A bit envious of their leisure, we hurried into the cathedral to crane our necks in awe once again.

The main part of the cathedral was completed in a very quick 38 years during the mid-13th century, and has the tallest spire in the United Kingdom.

A large reflective four-pointed... shape... is in the center of the nave.  It offers a new perspective as well as a break for the neck-craning.

I just love the ceilings. I want elaborate ceilings everywhere.

I also love arches, especially painted ones.

The Quire stalls are the largest in Britain as well as being the first completed. I love the intricate carvings of most quire stalls, but the animals on this one were especially fascinating!

Salisbury Cathedral's Chapter House is also home to the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, and one of only four of the original 1215 version (no photographs allowed, though). Another copy resides at Lincoln Castle, which we unfortunately weren't able to see during our visit to Lincoln. We'll be back, though!

The cloister, as usual, was Paul's favorite part. I wouldn't turn it down, either!

When you go to Stonehenge (more on that in a future post), be sure to take some time around Salisbury. Not only is it a charming city, but its beautiful cathedral inspired an incredible novel, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, which I strongly recommend reading before you visit any of Europe's incredible cathedrals and abbeys.  If you're not a reader, well, then, just be astonished and amazed at the immense beauty in these masterpieces of architecture.

Can you tell I miss Great Britain?!?

December 7, 2012

6 Heaven on a Plate: Apple and Wensleydale with Cranberries Pie

 I don't think it's a secret that I've got both a raging sweet tooth and a massive cheese addiction. England was very, very good to both of these problems pleasures in my life, and a couple of years ago I found a way to combine them.
Our first house in England was a 1780s farmhouse complete with five Bramley apple trees in the garden (yard). Once fall hit, so did the apples, and I couldn't make enough pies or give enough apples away. The problem with Bramleys is that they're painfully tart- so nearly inedible raw. This also means they are excellent for cooking and baking, so I took full advantage of that.
One night when I was making yet another apple pie, I decided something that fell into another food group would be a good idea, so I snacked on some of my favorite cheese- Wensleydale with cranberries- and crackers. I began thinking (something about getting protein in one's system for the first time in probably a week...) and remembered the Southern addition of cheddar that I'd always thought ruined an otherwise delicious apple pie.
Well, those apples were usually sweet, to counter the sharp cheddar. I had face-alteringly tart apples, with a more sweet, creamy cheese...
and an idea hatched. I made my first Apple and Wensleydale-with-cranberries Pie and took it over to a friend's house, where she was packing up to move away. I apologized in advance about 60 times, just in case the pie was awful... but I had two slices before leaving the rest with them- and got rave reviews!

I've made it a few more times since, and each time it's better than I remembered. After mentioning it enough times to Betsy that I've begun to feel a bit guilty, I thought it was time to put it on the blog.
Warning: I bake for taste. Not for pictures, or even perfectly crimped crusts.

I use Gesine Bullock-Prado's basic pie crust with only butter- no shortening. I'm not opposed to shortening (the lowest-possible trans-fat kind), but even with my high cholesterol I believe natural fats are better and easier for my body to process than fake fats.  Ahem. I pretty much think Gesine Bullock-Prado hung the puffed-crust moon and perfectly sugar-spun stars, so I refer to her for nearly all baking (or sugar) queries.
I use my apple corer/slicer to cut up my apples; it's such a handy gadget I don't know why piemakers wouldn't have one. I don't peel the apples, though. My mom was a firm believer in the nutritious peels, and since I don't mind them it'd be wasteful and silly to peel them.  I then toss the apples with flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon- I'm bad about not measuring, but I tried to this time:
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons muscavado (or brown, if muscavado isn't available) sugar- NOT packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
With the cheese flavor I tend to leave out the other traditional apple pie spices, but cinnamon goes so well with the cranberries.  The brown sugar is negotiable, but my sweet tooth appreciates it.  The flour helps the apple juices from mushing everything up, so it's vital.
I sliced up 5 medium sized apples. I used Honeycrisp, and I'm not crazy about them for this (or for eating). Gala and Fuji would both be too sweet with the cheese and I refuse to touch the mealy varieties (Red Delicious, Granny Smith, etc.) and those were my only choices. I'm going to keep searching for a better apple for this pie.
**Update: So far Braeburn seems to be the best apple for this pie. I'm still on the hunt for a nice, firm tart apple like Bramley, but Braeburn's flavor fits the pie much better than any other US varieties I've sampled!

Now, the cheese... Obviously I can't just drive up to Wensleydale Creamery anymore. (hang on. I need a moment.)  But thankfully, I found some (fake- it's from England, just not Wensleydale itself) Wensleydale with cranberries cheese at Whole Foods. I think the cheese monger's eyes about bugged out when I picked up the 1/4 wheel instead of a little wedge, but he'll get used to me eventually.
I used about half of the 1/4 wheel, so slightly over 1/2 pound of cheese. Yep.
**Update: If you're near a Harris Teeter, (locations here) they carry real Wensleydale Creamery Wensleydale-with-cranberries! (Also the apricot and blueberry varieties… but unfortunately not the plain Wensleydale.)
 Roll out the pie crust, put it in the pie plate (I use Pyrex glass so I can check on the bottom crust during baking), press it into the corners gently.
I slice the cheese thickly, otherwise it tends to melt down in the oven and change the consistency of the pie. Thick slices (about 1 cm) keep the portion similar to the apples. I then layer it with the apples- thicker layers of apples between cheese: cheese, apples, cheese, apples.  Sometimes you also have to eat a piece of the cheese. That's okay, too.
I like to do something with my top crust. If I'm feeling lazy I just lattice it, otherwise I use my cookie cutters. Since this is an English-based pie, I used my Jubilee crown cookie cutters. This leaves the appropriate holes in the top as well.
I did an egg-white wash, then sprinkled with cinnamon demerara sugar. Then my trusty Pie Crust Shield went on for the first half of baking.

In the oven at 350º for 20 minutes, then up to 375º for another 30ish. I haven't quite figured out this oven yet, and while my oven thermometer says it's accurate it seems cool to me (stuff takes longer to cook). Pies are so fickle anyway, though, that I usually just stick my head in around 20 minutes, then at 30 minutes, then every 5 until the majority of the top crust is golden. Then I check the bottom (clear pie plate!) to be sure the bottom crust isn't soggy, although some moist-looking bits are fine as long as it's not predominately moist.  If the top is getting dangerously toasted and the bottom isn't baked, tuck some tin foil over the whole top, crunching at the sides.  If you're doing a more traditional full top crust or latticed, the Pie Shield should probably stay on longer.
Told you I'm rubbish at recipes.

Then I eat it. This pie is perfect, because I can pretend it's a meal: cheese, fruit, bread/crust... YUM!

Keep an eye out at your cheese counter (I hear Costco has it as well around the holidays) and pick up some Wensleydale with cranberries cheese- it's DELICIOUS! Well, unless you're Paul and a spoilsport, but that just means more for me!

Have a great weekend!
I'm off for another slice...

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