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Karen’s Blog

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Butterflies in Shropshire

Painted Lady Butterfly in Shropshire

With the lovely weather in Shropshire over the last few weeks,  we’ve been seeing an increase in the number of butterflies in the wildflower meadow. The meadow is a bit more wild than flower at the moment. However, this means there are lots of nettles for the butterflies to lay eggs on and for the caterpillars so eat.

I’m always excited to see the first painted butterfly of the year. The painted lady is actually a long distance migrant to the UK. You can read a bit more about it here.

Shropshire Yarn Shops

We’ve just come back from our Summer Break on the North West Coast of America. We had a great time visiting Vancouver BC, Seattle, Portland and Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast.

We did a lot of sightseeing, walking, wildlife spotting and lots and lots of eating. I also discovered a new holiday passion and that was finding local yarn shops. It’s the first time we’ve been back to America since I discovered the knitting bug and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed visiting lots of lovely woolly shops!

For those of you that don’t knit or crochet you’re probably a bit perplexed by now, but those of you that are yarn addicted will understand.

So we’re back from holiday, a little jet lagged; it’s an 8 hour time difference. I’ve set 4 alarms to make sure I’ve been up in time for breakfasts this week, Luckily I have lovely repeat guests in who wouldn’t be too cross if I was snoozing whilst on duty.

I spent far too much on yarn whilst I was on holiday. I’ve just finished a shawl using the beautiful green alpaca yarn that I bought in Portland, Oregon.

Green knitted shawl with greenfinch mug - shropshire yarn shops

It got me thinking about the lovely yarn shops we have here in Shropshire, so I thought I’d share my favourites with you, so you can do your own yarn shop crawl when you come to visit

1) Ewe and Ply, Shrewsbury

Ewe and Ply is a fabulous little shop on the gallery level of Shrewsbury Market Hall. On Instagram they describe themselves as “Purveyors of fine yarns, quality notions and sundry items. Unreformed yarn geeks”

Shrewsbury Market Hall is a wonderful place to visit with lots of wonderful shops as well as some great restaurants and cafes.

2) Sheepish, Bishops Castle

Sheepish is in the market town of Bishops Castle, about 12 miles from us. They are passionate about promoting British and fairtrade yarns. They’re very friendly and happy for you to sit and peruse patterns.

Bishops Castle has a couple of galleries, cafes, good pubs and a few microbreweries. It’s home to the oldest brewery in England. All ideal if you’re with a reluctant yarn shopping partner.

3) Ippikin, Much Wenlock

Ippikin is another small, but perfectly formed, local yarn shop in the market town of Much Wenlock. It is a well established wool shop stocking fabulous yarns; both local and independent specialists as well as all the brand names. And also very friendly too.

Much Wenlock is a wonderful market town, with interesting shops, a fabulous priory and great pubs and cafes. It’s also very close to Ironbridge.

Local Shropshire History

If you were to ask me to name the thing that interests me the most , I’d probably have to see the local wildlife, but I’ve been taking a bit more of a interest in our local Shropshire history just recently.

Man has been living round here for thousands of years and has made his mark on the landscape. We have old drovers roads over a thousand years old. These roads connected village to village and some still exist these days.

We have many iron age hill forts in Shropshire. The Iron Age period covers the 900 years or so from 800BC.

Probably a couple of the  most famous historical periods that Shropshire is know for are the times of the War of the Roses and Tudor times when Ludlow Castle was an important stronghold.

In the War of the Roses the battle of Mortimers Cross was fought about 10 miles south of here.

Of course we have Hopton Castle within a 20 minute walk of the house. We actually had time team here a few years ago investigating its very bloody history. You watch the programme of youtube here.

But there are also lesser known mounds and earthworks that give a hint to what went on round here. I was driving back from Ludlow the other day when I noticed a mound covered with trees in a local field. It’s one of those parts of the landscape that you can’t see once the hedgerows are fully clothed in leaves.

A bit of internet investigation tells me that it is Broadward Hall motte and it’s the remains of a motte castle that controlled a crossing point on the River Clun.  I can’t get a definitive answer for how old it is but Motte Castles were introduced into England after the Normal conquest in 1066 and superseded by other designs in the 13th Century.

There’s a public footpath from the road that takes you along the river and past the motte if you wanted to take a closer look.

A bit more investigation also tells me that Warfield bank, the smaller hill you can see from Hopton House ( an the one that the dogs I are looking at in the photo above ) was also a motte, with speculation locally that it was built on a much earlier iron age fort.

If you’re interested in local history then I recommend a visit to the Ludlow museum.

Hopton Motte - Remains of Motte Castle near Hopton House near Ludlow

 

Spring Break in Shropshire

 

It’s nearly time for a spring break here in Shropshire. At Hopton House the catkins have been out for ages and we’re now surrounded by drifts of snowdrops. I spotted the first open daffodil flower on the dog walk today and some of the tete a tete and primroses are out in the garden.

Mr B&B was away for Valentine’s Day but I awoke to find a wren sitting on the end of my bed serenading me.   We like to sleep with our window slightly open, whatever the weather, and this wren  is a regular visitor into our bedroom, popping in several times a day in search of food. If I can just get them to do the housework for me, my transformation to Cinderella will be complete.

Spring Break in Shropshire - snowdrops on the verge with Hopton Titterhill behind

It is lovely to hear the dawn chorus starting up again. This morning it started with doves and was then taken up by the robin and blackbirds. Though I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about the wren serenading me when it gets lighter much earlier.

Also it’s probably not just one wren. I happened to catch 10 of them flying up into the eves at dusk the other day. Luckily I love my birds.

I also love my frogs and I’ve noticed several in the pond recently. Luckily they are safe from the chickens this spring . Because of the current avian flu problem, they have had to be kept shut away since before Christmas. I do miss them free ranging.

a big drift of primroses in the sunshine

 

Gluten Free Oat and Banana Blueberry Pancakes

I often get requests for gluten free options at the B&B and try and offer a good choice.

On request, I can do a gluten free lemon drizzle for the rooms and the gluten free banana bread at breakfast has proven to be very popular even amongst the gluten eaters!

Pancakes are a popular choice at breakfast but by just replacing the flour with gluten free they can taste a bit gritty.  So, as it’s the quiet time of year for the B&B, I thought I’d have a bit of an experiment.

I’m very pleased with the result and they have the added benefits of being high in fibre and with no added sugar.

This recipe serves 1 with 3 pancakes. You could also replace the blueberries with chopped apple and add a teaspoon of cinnamon.

The calorie count ( according to my fitness pal ) is about 320 calories for 3 pancakes – 8g fibre, 50g Carbohydrates, 15g sugar, 10g fat, 10g protein.

Adding a tablespoon of maple syrup adds 40 calories.

Gluten Free Oat and Banana Blueberry Pancakes

Gluten Free Banana Oat Blueberry Pancakes - Hopton House, Bed and Breakfast Shropshire

Ingredients

1 small banana

1 small egg

40 g ( 1/2 cup ) gluten free porridge oats

1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder

25g blueberries

3g butter for brushing the pan

Method

Whizz all the ingredients together in a blender until the mix is smooth. Leave for about 20 minutes to allow time for the mix to thicken up.

Heat a non stick frying pan on a medium heat. Brush with melted butter. Spoon the mix into the pan, creating 3 pancakes, Sprinkle the blueberries over the pancakes. Cook the pancakes until small bubbles appear and the bottom are golden brown, then flip the pancakes, cooking until golden brown.

Best served with lashings of maple syrup……

Free Knitting Patterns

I’ve become a bit addicted to knitting over the last 2 years since I taught myself to knit again. A lot of my original creations are still around but I’m pleased to say I am very gradually getting better.

Knitted Cowl - Knitting workshops shropshire

Knitting is brilliant for so many reasons and becoming increasingly trendy.

Knitting does have its dark side of course. I’ve become a yarn addict and most of my spare cash now goes in secretive yarn purchases. Mr B&B’s heart sinks when I spot a new yarn shop when we’re out and resigns himself to spending an hour in a local café whilst I indulge. I have even started planning excursions when we’re on holiday around new and exciting yarn emporiums.

The other downside is that I have stopped racking up so many steps on my Fitbit. I have solved this by perfecting my walk’n’knit technique.

Knitting also has lots of surprising health benefits, some of which are described here in the New York Times

If you’re new to knitting or want to improve your skills, the internet is full of great knitting resources. I taught myself from videos on YouTube. There are lots out there but I recommend Very Pink Knits

If you want to buy yarn then check out your local yarn shops ( LYS ) but you can also buy some fantastic wool online ( sorry non UK people this is a bit UK centric ).

My very favourite is Loop in London – I paid an in person visit there a few weeks ago – oh my.

Otherwise I like Love Knitting.

Here are some free knitting patterns to inspire you!

1. It’s not too late to knit yourself some Christmas decorations.

2. If you’re fasting and still want some gingerbread then knit yourself some – guaranteed calorie free!

3. The shops are full of big chunky scarves these days but so easy to knit

4. Is your Kindle feeling the cold? Then knit it a jumper

5. Or a jumper for your favourite 4 legged friend

6.  Welly toppers are a super quick knit and great stocking fillers

7. Is the family expecting a new arrival this year?

8. Want to keep chickens but don’t have the space – knit yourself some

9. Feeling adventurous? chunky jumpers for the whole family

10. Treat yourself to a pretty lace shawl

11. There are lots of things you can knit for charity too

12. I just love this little Miffy rabbit

13. Reading 50 shades of grey on the train – then this knitted book cover may come in useful

14. Some little heart coasters ready for Valentines Day

15. Wash and dish cloths are a popular starter project.

Enjoy your knitting and don’t forget you can learn to knit or improve your skills here at Hopton House with WildThornKnitting.

 

Shropshire Bed and Breakfast – October

Shropshire Bed and Breakfast - October Availability

After a very busy summer and September we’re now into October. We’ve been enjoying some glorious weather, with beautiful morning mists and golden sunsets,  and are loving seeing the colours gradually changing in the garden.

We were fairly full for October at the B&B but we’ve had a few last minute cancellations so we now have good availability, including our dog friendly downstairs Barn Room which is normally fairly well booked out throughout. Click on the Book Now! button for more details.

Remember if you’d rather not go out in the evening we can leave a platter in your room; choose from cheese, ploughmans or smoked salmon. This for just £25 for 2 people.

We hope to see you soon!

Karen

Shropshire Bed and Breakfast – October

 

How To Bake A Small Batch Of Muffins

How To Bake A Small Batch Of Muffins

How To Bake A Small Batch Of Muffins

The buffet table at breakfast is filled with fresh fruit, fruit and natural yoghurts, Bircher muesli, homemade bread to toast, freshly squeezed orange juices and local apple juice and a selection of cereals. I also like to put some sort of baked goods on there as a treat.

At this time of year when I can pick blackberries from the wildflower meadow, the only thing to make is Blackberry cinnamon streusel muffins. If guests can’t manage them after breakfast  they can always take them away for a snack later when they get peckish.

The trouble with muffins is that I think they taste best warm from the oven and I don’t think they taste as good if they’ve been frozen or the next day. But the problem is all muffin recipes seem to produce 10-12 muffins and if I ate all the leftover muffins every day I’d soon need a new wardrobe.

So my challenge was to create a method that allowed me to make just 2 or 4 muffins with no waste. And I’ve done it! This recipe is also quite quick in the morning as much of it is already prepared for you. You just scoop out as much of your prepared dry mix as you need and then combine with the wet ingredients.

I’ve spent years looking for the perfect muffin recipe and I eventually found it the American Culinary Institute Cookbook.  The original recipe is for Raspberry pecan streusel muffins. This one is for blackberries. You can use any fruit that you think will work and add different nuts to the streusel or leave them out as I’ve done here.

Note when I talk about cups I mean American Measuring cups. They’re easy to buy in the UK these days but I’ve also included weights in grams.

Making Your Dry Mix

You need a large airtight jar. I have a bit of a thing about Kilner jars and can’t walk past them without buying them. The jar needs to be big enough so there’s room in there to shake all your ingredients to make sure they’re really well combined before each use.

First you put all the dry mix ingredients into your jar and shake really well. This is the ratio of ingredients you need but you could double ( or even triple if your jar is big enough ) them.

  • 1.5 cups ( 225g ) plain ( all purpose ) flour
  • 0.5 cups ( 115g) caster ( fine ) sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 0.25 tsp salt

Making Your Streusel Topping

You don’t have to use it but the streusel topping really makes these muffins. You can add nuts or different spices if you like. I make up a big batch of streusel topping and put it in the freezer, then just scoop out 0.5 tablespoons per muffin

  • 2/3 cup ( 110g) plain ( all purpose flour )
  • 2/3 cup ( 110g) light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons ( 60g) melted butter

Mix all the dry ingredients together and then mix in the butter till you get a crumble like mixture with big crumbs. I use my Kitchenaid mixer for this because I’m lazy but you could do it in a big bowl with a wooden spoon.

Put this into a freezer proof container or a plastic bag, seal and put in the freezer.

Making Up Your Muffins

For each muffin you need 35g or 3.5 tablespoons of dry mix combined with about 35g or 3.5 tablespoons of the wet ingredients.

This is where it can be a bit problematic as you may need you find 1/2 an egg. You could always beat up the egg and throw half of it away or use it in scrambled eggs, an omelette or another recipe.

For 4 muffins I used one of our very small eggs which I weighed ( out of the shell ) to be 40g.  A normal egg is about 80g.

I wouldn’t get too worried about being that precise with the ratios of the wet ingredients. What you’re aiming for is about the same volume of dry ingredients to wet, so if your egg is a bit bigger just use a bit less buttermilk.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius ( 170 degrees for a fan or 375 F )

For 4 muffins you’ll need

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup ( 50g ) buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup ( 50g ) melted butter
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 small egg ( about 40g or whatever size egg you have beaten and weigh/measure out 40g or 4 tablespoons )

Beat the wet ingredients together. Shake your prepared muffin mix well and weigh out 140g ( 3/4 cup + 2 tbs ) into a bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until it is just combined. Don’t beat or over mix as this makes the muffin tough. Stir through the blackberries ( I use about a tablespoon per muffin ).

Put into 4 prepared muffin cases in a muffin tin. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with about 0.5 tbs streusel mix straight from the freezer. Bake for a bout 20 minutes until risen and golden.

 

Maple Oat Ginger Scones

I discovered ginger scones when we stayed in a B&B in Maine quite a few years ago. I added them to the breakfast menu here and they were very popular, but for some reason I’ve not made them for a while.

I tried them out on the breakfast table again last week and they proved very popular. So much so that I was asked for the recipe. So here it is!

American breakfast scones are different to the traditional English scone. They are much flakier – almost like a thick but lighter shortbread biscuit. They contain no egg but are made with double cream. In my opinion they need to be eaten, still warm, from the oven.

One of the great things about these scones for a busy B&B owner is that they can be frozen and cooked from frozen. So you can make up a big batch, freeze them on a tray and then pop them into a bag in the freezer. Just take one or 2 out of the freezer when you need them.

These scones are a slightly different version of my original ginger scones as they contain maple syrup and porridge oats.

Maple Oat Ginger Scones, east to bake and perfect for breakfast at our Shropshire B&B

Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 65g porridge oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 170g cold diced butter
  • 90ml maple syrup
  • 180ml double cream

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, porridge oats and ginger in a mixing bowl and mix well together. Then rub in the butter till it resembles biggest breadcrumbs. I use my kitchenaid to do this but it’s easy to do by hand.

Add the cream and maple syrup and mix till it forms a dough but don’t over beat.

Maple Oat Ginger Scone Recipe - Shropshire Bed and Breakfast

Put the dough out onto a floured surface and fold it in half several times.

Roll it out to a dough about 2cm thick then, using a cookie cutter in your choice of size, cut out the scones.

Brush with maple syrup and sprinkle with a few oats then put in an oven heated to 180 degrees C ( fan oven ) and bake for 16-18 minutes.

If you want to freeze, put the individual scones on a baking tray ( without the extra maple syrup and oats )  and place in a freezer till frozen, then put into a plastic bag and put back in the freezer. Bake from frozen, brushing first with the maple syrup and oats.

 

New Breakfast Specials

The Full English remains a staple at the B&B, but I’m seeing fewer of them ordered these days, so I’m adding in some new breakfast specials.

Pancakes, Eggs Benedict and herby mushrooms with poached eggs are all favourites with our regular guests and they all appear on the menu everyday.

But occasionally, for a bit of variety or because I’m catering for special diets, I add in a few new dishes.

Avocado toast with lime and coriander on sourdough and poached eggs is a recent addition to the menu, brought back from that London by my daughter.

I’ve also taken the waffle maker out of the cupboard and dusted it off, so I can now offer sweet waffles with berries and maple syrup or savoury waffles with bacon and fried eggs.

Avocado toast and poached eggs - new breakfast specials