Wednesday, July 29

Curry night - part three

The side dishes

Cheesy peas - almost certainly more properly known as matar paneer, but always cheesy peas in our house!


1 tbsp each butter & oil
1 clove of garlic
2 -3 small shallots (or an onion, leek, whatever...)
1/2 tsp each ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, garam masala & ground ginger (or an inch-long chunk of fresh, finely chopped)
chilli to taste
2-3 cups frozen peas
1-2 cups passata or canned tomatoes
cheese - ideally paneer, but wensleydale, feta or halloumi work too. Cut into bite-size chunks. This time out, I'm going with fresh mozzarella, just because it's what I've got in the fridge and it's piddling down out there!


Crush & chop garlic & shallots and sweat in half of the oil/ butter mix. Once softened, stir in the spices the add the peas & passata. Simmer gently for at least 15 minutes (but it won't come to any harm if it's left longer.)

In a separate pan, heat the remaining oil & butter and quickly fry the chunks of cheese - when ready to serve, stir these into the peas.

Cucumber raita

Mix chopped cucumber, finely chopped mint and a little salt into plain yoghurt to make a cooling relish.

Curry night - part two

The house curry


1/2 tbsp each oil & butter
1 onion (or leek, or a few spring onions)
1 tsp each black mustard seed, coriander seed, cumin seed
1 tsp each ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric
chilli (fresh, dried or powder) to taste
any combination of veg, meat or fish that are to hand & take your fancy (tonight I'm using courgette, chickpeas & a handful of swiss chard), prepared & cut into bite-size chunks
a little water
1 cup passata or canned tomatoes
2 oz creamed coconut
plain yoghurt or creme fraiche, to taste


Sweat onions in the oil & butter mix, & when softened add the whole spices. Once whole spices are toasted, add ground spices then meat/ veg (though leave any leafy stuff until later) and a splash of water, and give the whole lot a good stir to ensure the spice mix coats everything evenly.

Mix in the passata and crumble over the creamed coconut, add a little more water if necessary to give a reasonably fluid sauce, cover the pan & leave to simmer gently.

A couple of minutes before you're ready to dish up, stir in any leafy veg you're using, then the yoghurt*

Serve with any combination of rice, naan, chapatis, poppadoms...

* A top tip I read in one of Nigel Slater's wonderful Observer columns is to whisk in a teaspoon or so of gram (chickpea) flour per 1/2 cup of yoghurt or low-fat creme fraiche before using it in a hot dish - this helps to prevent curdling.

Curry night - part one

Hello, it's been a while...

A house update will follow, but for now, while this is fresh in my mind, I must get it down - my pseudo-naan bread recipe.


1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups strong white (bread) flour
1 tsp easy-blend yeast
1 tsp muscovado sugar
1 tsp kalonji (black onion seed)
a generous pinch of salt
2 fl oz cold water
4 fl oz boiling water
6 fl oz plain yoghurt


Pre-heat oven to its highest setting with a pizza stone in it (or a sturdy baking sheet.)
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, and wet ingredients in a jug, then mix the two together.

Knead well until the dough is elastic & not too sticky, cover with a cloth & leave in a warm place to rise while you make your curry. I'm not especially fussy about how long this stage lasts - if I'm organised enough to start the dough a couple of hours in advance, that's great, but as little as half an hour seems to work ok, too.

When ready to cook, split the dough into 4-6 pieces and roll, pull & stretch into flat ovals. Dust with a little flour if they're sticky, then slap straight onto the stone or baking tray. Bake for about 10 minutes - they'll look puffy & golden & browned in patches when they're ready. Wrap in a clean cloth to keep warm at the table!

Curry recipe to follow...

Monday, June 8

Itch to pitch

Toni over at The Happy Housewife has come up with a great little piece of motivation - the Itch to Pitch challenge. With before & after decluttering pictures to be posted every Monday, there's nowhere to hide! I've already posted a few pre- and post-move photos, but check back next Monday for a bit more of a proper project.

And the mess goes on...

That big jagged line is where the plaster has come away from the wall

A month ago today I wrote my last post, in the midst of panic attacks and not-yet-packed boxes. Today, with my broadband up & running (thanks Sky - for all Mr Murdoch's faults, your customer service is marvellous!) I'm sitting in the midst of plaster dust and not-yet-unpacked boxes!

There has been progress - the bathroom has been decorated, in very pleasing shades of mocha & duck egg
the outside loo has been converted into a utility room (though the loo is still sitting in the yard and the top of the washing machine is stacked with boxes); the exterior doors have been painted Oxford blue; one of the outhouses has been transformed from dumping ground to bike shed;
the pantry has its extra shelves and is well-stocked

and dinky spice shelves, too

the bedroom is a beautiful & usable space

if still curtain-less and rather cluttered, and check out the wardrobe!

On the down side, this is the current state of the kitchen, complete with this week's to-do list on the fridge (I do love my dry-wipe markers!)

and as for the spare room...

Friday, May 8


It's now three weeks since we picked up the keys to the house, the re-wiring was completed yesterday afternoon and the pantry, wardrobe and master bedroom have been painted. There has been (and continues to be) much mess, stress, cussing, shopping (mostly for paint & power tools), and tomorrow we move in.

I am by no means ready to do so - only half of our possessions are packed, and the house is still, fundamentally, a wreck (the kitchen is far from usable and there's no plaster on some of the living room walls, never mind paint, wallpaper, curtains...) I start hyperventilating every time I think about it, so I'm going to stop doing so, head on up there & re-lay the bedroom carpet, so we'll have just one room that we can say is done.

There's unlikely to be any blogging for the next four weeks - for apparently that's how long it takes to get broadband set up these days (surely it should just be a matter of flipping a switch by now??)

Wednesday, April 22

A week is a long time in new home-ownership!

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The story so far - since getting the keys last Thursday, we have:

  • removed the vile stair carpet and sanded, primed & undercoated the stair treads & landing. I've sprinkled fine sand into the undercoat to reduce the risk of slipping (especially outside the bathroom door, which is opposite the top of the stairs!)
  • Still to do: paint stair treads & landing black, wallpaper stair risers, paint woodwork & walls.

  • Stripped the kitchen of wall-units, tiles and wallpaper.
  • Bought two rather handsome lights to replace the horrid strip-light (which is tucked in behind a beam so half of the kitchen is bright & half dingy)
  • Still to do: Too much to even think about! To begin with, though, a coat of white paint (although eventually it'll be yellow to match the pantry, there are currently at least three different colours on the walls which need covering up) and some shelving to design & place brackets for before the re-wiring begins, so the electricians can fit the countertop lighting and extractor hood.

  • Painted the pantry walls (Homebase "Lemon Juice.") It took four coats, but at last the Germolene pink does not show through! Primed & undercoated the window frame and given the existing shelves a first coat of white gloss.
  • Still to do: Add more shelves, including space for my bargain marble slab (picked up in a charity shop this morning for £1.50!), add wine rack, give shelves & other woodwork a coat of shiny white gloss, add corkboard to inside of door for combined insulation & recipe display.

  • Stripped the top layer off most of the living room wallpaper. I curse the name of the person who invented anaglypta. Vile, vile stuff. The steam from the stripper doesn't penetrate the top layer, so that has to be scraped off (for which task I'm loving my blade-on-a-stick), leaving the backing paper to be steamed off later.
  • The gas fire has been disconnected (it was broken, and therefore dangerous) and the surround offered up on Freecycle - though why anyone would actually want a plastic, sorry, teak-effect gas fire surround is rather beyond me. My opinion has been borne out by the complete lack of replies.
  • Still to do: finish stripping this bloody wallpaper, then, well, everything, really.

I'm waiting for the quotes to come in from the two electricians, and meanwhile I'm writing epic shopping lists for Ikea (with my mum on Thursday) and the rather wonderful DIY store/ timber merchant, handily en route from old place to new (Friday, when he has his next delivery of carpet edging doo-dahs.) The tininess of the storefront belies the absolutely vast range - he seems to have pretty much every bit of timber we could possibly require, and the tools & accessories to turn it into useful bits of furniture!

Thursday, April 16

We have a house!

Or rather, the bank does, and we're paying them for it for the next two and a half decades...

We also have a lot of work to do.

1. The kitchen. Nothing on this end wall is level (no, it's not just the photo.) I went to our local DIY mecca as soon as I'd picked up the keys, where a couple of very helpful gents sold me a heavy-duty scraper and a pair of safety goggles so I can make a start on the destruction of the tiles this afternoon.

2. The pantry: On the (absolutely massive) plus side, I have a pantry. On the minus side, it's extremely pink. It also needs more shelves, at least one of which needs to be stone (OK, would be nice if it could be...)

3. The hall/ stairway: two bannisters on such a steep stair might be a good idea - the fact that they are at different heights is just irritating. As for that carpet...

The yellow can stay, it makes for a lovely warm welcome to the house, and, inspired by Anna at Door Sixteen, I intend to wallpaper the stair risers - in fact, I've already bought a roll of this Sanderson wallpaper.

4. The master bedroom urgently needs de-wallpapering, before the pattern gives me a migraine! I've got paint for one wall already, and fabric for blinds, now I need to decide on colours for the rest - my starting point's lavender, if anyone's got any suggestions!

5. The living room is probably the least in need of work, except for the small matter of electrical outlets. It has three. All on different walls. And our TV set-up alone needs about five. One of my jobs for this afternoon is to arrange quotes from electricians - we're working on the basis that wiring is a messy job, and is much better done before we start decorating & moving furniture in so we'll probably get the whole place rewired now, bugger the cost.

Part of me wants to build shelving across a whole wall, but that may have to wait until funds allow.

Eventually, this gas fire will be going, too. In fact, maybe sooner rather than later - I'm happy to be without a fireplace for a while. And the gas-man will be coming anyway to check the boiler & install our cooker...

6. The second bedroom & the bathroom are low priorities - they're liveable for now. They'll get some form of window treatments for privacy, and a lick of paint, and we'll work out the rest later.

7. The garden: My good intention is to leave it a year to see what comes up before I start digging it all up & moulding it to my will. I fully accept though that this is unlikely to happen, I'm far too impatient.

Monday, April 6

Spring is in the air

The blackbirds are singing their hearts out, the goldfinches and robins are going around the allotment site in pairs, and the cock-pheasants are fighting for death or glory. My windowsills are full of seedlings, and I've just spent a happy hour soaking away a day's digging with Mark Diacono's book, making a list of seeds to sow tomorrow.

I've already got underway
  • Tomatoes - far too many varieties: Matina, Gardener's delight, red brandywine, gartenperle & mountain pride
  • Chillies - the ominously named Inferno, and a "hot shake" mix
  • Sweet peppers - Marconi red & Jolly Giallo (yellow, if your Italian isn't up to much)
  • Celeriac - Giant Prague
  • Coriander
  • Sweetcorn - True Gold
  • Aubergine - Calliope
  • Cucumber - Marketmore
  • Pumpkins & squash - Mars, berettina & butternut
  • Courgette - Verde d'Italia
  • Artichokes - Imperial star & Violet de Provence
  • Cauliflower - Romanesco
  • Flowers - many types, including but not limited to sweet peas, zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, nicotiana & sweet William - (the dahlias are going into the new coldframe tomorrow to free up some space!)
tomorrow's indoor planting list includes
  • Beans - borlotti, French and possibly broad (I have broad bean seeds, but I'm not convinced I like them enough to bother)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chinese leaf
  • Swiss chard
  • Kale - curly and Italian
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Peas & mangetout
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
and outdoors
  • Fennel - Romanesco (for bulbs - though it may be a little early yet)
  • Swede
  • Potatoes - King Edward & Pink Fir Apple are chitting on the bedroom windowsill, International Kidney went in a couple of weeks ago.

As well as assembling my new coldframe, I sweet-talked T into digging me a couple of new beds for my globe artichokes yesterday. Last year they were shoehorned in amongst the chrysanthemums, and three of the four I planted were devoured by slugs & snails. The last remaining survivor was transplanted into the herb bed at the end of the autumn, but this year's seedlings will need a home in a few weeks. So now I have a pair of 4 foot x 2 foot beds, generously manured (thanks to a plot-neighbour wanting to empty his last barrow so he could go back to his local riding school for more), tucked in between the herbs and the gooseberry bush: I reckon two, maybe three plants to each bed, Imperial Star one side of the path, Violet de Provence the other.

Busy day tomorrow, I best take myself off to bed!

A year ago today...

... we first broke the ground on my allotment. This is how it looked on that dreary April day. Twelve months on it has fed us well, provided flowers for the house, and given us a place to escape to when living in the middle of town has become too much. According to last year's notebook, the first day up there was spent measuring out the beds and digging over the first three, sowing wheat (rather late, which probably explains why it didn't crop well) and then sowing seeds at home.

Today it looks like this

and has produced our first ever spear of asparagus (oh, if only we could eat it! Roll on next year!)

The allotment's birthday present was a smart new cold-frame - a "free" raised-bed kit, wrapped around with anti-slug copper tape, topped with a couple of windows donated by a friend when I first took the allotment on. A second raised bed kit has been ordered to go on top, which should make this set-up deep enough for getting most things started.

Happy birthday, allotment 28b!

Friday, April 3

Friday flowers

The stars of the allotment show today were tulips, and the first ladybird of spring. A half-hour trip to check on things turned into three hours of planting & enjoying the birds and the sunshine. And a detour into Homebase for a packet of cucumber seeds saw £10 spent on raspberry bushes to replace the pound-shop canes that didn't survive the winter. I went for Polka (their only autumn-fruiting variety) Glen Clova and Malling Jewel. I need a good summer, I simply must have fresh raspberries.

Tuesday, March 31

Spring cleaning

Well, I was supposed to be spring cleaning the flat, but I got distracted and spring cleaned my blog instead. Despite the fact that it's barely a week old.

mmm.... fresh!

Sunday, March 29

Productive? No, but lovely

Chives donated by my plot-neighbour this afternoon

I do love my allotment, it's on a lovely site, sandwiched between a cemetery-cum-nature reserve and an ancient common, (which is still used for grazing cattle,) has rich, fertile soil and, sloping gently to the south, has day-long sunshine. And best of all, it's less than half an hour's walk from our city-centre flat - and barely ten minutes from the house we'll hopefully soon be moving to. I took charge of my half a plot (5 poles, for those who know about these things) almost a year ago, and it's far from my first gardening experience, but I'm still learning all the time.

Today I learned that my new plot-neighbours have a dog called Google (I can only assume that he's good at finding things) and that the shrub that makes up most of my hedge is extremely flammable.

I have no idea what this shrub is. It is evergreen, with oval leaves, green on top, silver-white underneath, has thin flaky bark on its woodier stems and has daisy-like flowers in summer. It grows (or has in my case grown) into an untidy beast, about four or five feet high, which is why it had something of a haircut a couple of months ago. The prunings have been sitting in the middle of a path ever since, waiting for a dry enough, still enough day for a bonfire, and today was - finally - that day. I got the incinerator (well, rusty old oil-drum left behind by the previous incumbent) going, started feeding in the ex-hedge and whooomf, nearly lost my eyebrows! The combination of papery bark and oily leaves made for a nice clean burn with very little smoke, but it did have serious speed & heat.

I appear to have taken up fire-worship

A (very) little weeding and planting aside, actual work on the allotment was at a minimum today, but hey, I got to spend four hours basking in the glorious spring sunshine instead of holed up in the flat!

Saturday, March 28

Seeds in the post

All spring, the Daily Telegraph, among others, has been running "free" plant offers - you know the sort of thing, pay (a little over the odds) for postage, get the headline plant for free. My allotment has become well-stocked with these freebies over the last year - my Victoria plum came from Grow Your Own magazine, pinks were from Good Housekeeping, Clematis from a copy of the Daily Mail found in the canteen at work, and the Telegraph has contributed more Clematis, more pinks, snowdrops. Today my latest batch arrived, an enormous envelope full of seeds.

If I recall correctly, this offer was published in the Telegraph on one of the first really good spring days, early this month. I spent the whole day at the allotment, and only saw the paper because I'd popped to Sainsbury's-at-Jacksons (or whatever they're calling themselves this week) for lunch after a hard morning's digging - much as it is my intention to be self-sufficient in veg this year, unfortunately North Yorkshire allotments aren't terribly rich in immediately consumable produce in early March, so a slightly dodgy cheese pasty & a chocolate bar it had to be. The prospect of a "free*" raised bed kit, and the seeds to plant in it, tempted me to a paper to read over lunch. I duly sent off my cheque, and apparently - for I promptly forgot entirely - ordered two seed collections as well, for now I have 17 varieties of vegetables and herbs, and eight of cottage garden flowers (though no raised bed kit yet, I assume that'll arrive soon.) Where I'm going to plant them all I do not know, perhaps I'll take up guerrilla gardening.

  • Broccoli (early purple sprouting)
  • Cabbage (Golden acre)
  • Carrot (Nantes 2)
  • Spring onion (white Lisbon)
  • Beetroot (Detroit)
  • Lettuce (Marvel of four seasons)
  • Tomato (red cherry)
  • Swiss chard (ruby)
  • Sweet pepper (California wonder)
  • Salad (California mixed)
  • Aubergine (F1 mixed)
  • Butternut squash
  • Chili pepper (Jalapeno)
  • Pumpkin (Atlantic giant)
  • Parsley (Italian giant)
  • Basil (sweet Genovese)
  • Rocket
  • Lavender (dwarf Munstead)
  • Pinks (cottage garden)
  • Nicotiana (Roulette F2 mixed)
  • Candytuft (Amara)
  • Brachycome (swan river daisy)
  • Night-scented stock
  • Sweet William (Indian carpet)
  • Wallflower (my fair lady)
I am now going to hide the catalogue that, naturally,arrived with the seeds, so I can't buy any more until next winter!

*I can only assume the suppliers make their money by tempting you into buying more, either there & then or later, when a new catalogue of "special offers" drops through the letterbox each month.

Friday, March 27

Have you been charity-shopping...?

Blue pressed-glass dressing table set, £5 from Thorne House shop

Why, yes dear, I have.

All I need now is a powder-puff!

A week's worth of groceries

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It's the last Friday of the month, which means it's Farmer's Market. And that means it's Chicken Day!

Today's FM haul consists of French tarragon & wild garlic plants for the allotment, about a pound and a half of Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher cheese (Tom's favourite, though a bit strong for my taste), our CSA chicken (plus one for Rina, to go in the freezer til she's back from Italy) and a pack of Swillington's bacon to try for breakfast on Sunday, and ta-dah! the first Purple Sprouting Broccoli I've seen this year!

Friday is also veg box day, so I've also got (toddles off to investigate box...) spuds, carrots & onions as always, plus curly kale, swede, and ooh, exciting, mushrooms! And they're all grown within 10 miles of home - though obviously the fruit bag contents travel a little further: global warming or no, no-one's growing bananas in Yorkshire just yet!

Which means, I now have a menu for the week:

Tonight: Potato cakes (last night's leftover mash), poached eggs & lovely purple sprouting to dip in the yolks.

Tomorrow: Mashed potato pizza (yes, I made a lot of mash last night.) Sounds weird but really very tasty!

Sunday: Roast chicken with all the trimmings - carrot & swede mash, steamed kale, roast potatoes, onion gravy, probably some mushroomy stuffing, too.

Monday: I'm working late so it'll be chicken sandwiches when I get in.

Tuesday: Chicken curry, with as many veggies as I can get into it.

Wednesday: Another late one for me, so risotto with the chicken stock, prepped in morning & finished when I get in

Thursday: Using-up-the-veg-box night - probably soup

The most beautiful smell in the world

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This recipe has been sitting in my online recipe file for, well, quite some time now. So yesterday I decided "today's the day!" Except that there was no bread flour left. One trip to M&S later ("this isn't just bread flour, this is prime, organic bread flour, from gold plated wheat..." though somehow still not as good as the stuff I order through my veg box, which travels all of about 15 miles from field to pantry.) I had the only ingredients you ever really need to bake a loaf: flour, yeast, salt, water and time.

I measured and mixed as directed, though my dough didn't look quite as wet as it normally would be, left it alone all night, then this morning Ishaped it, preheated my trusty Le Creuset and baked it. And now, it's sitting in the kitchen, filling the whole flat with the most beautiful smell in the world, the aroma of fresh-baked bread.

No-Knead Bread (from Steamy Kitchen)

3 cups strong white flour (bread flour)
1/4 tsp instant/ easy blend yeast
3/4 tsp salt (I prefer flaky sea salt like Maldon)
1 1/2 cups warm water

Ovenproof, lidded casserole dish or similar

Mix ingredients in a large bowl, stirring until it comes together. Cover with plastic/ a clean teatowel/ your special bread-making cloth (yes, I have a special cloth I use just for covering the bread bowl - it's a lovely blue-and-white striped cotton napkin) and leave overnight.

Flour your worktop and, using wet hands, scrape the dough out onto it. Pull the edges of the dough into the centre - not enough to call it kneading, just enough to give you a nice neat round shape. Now flour a cloth - that nice fine cotton napkin (or teatowel) will do just perfectly - and drop the ball of dough on to it. Wrap the cloth around it & leave it alone for a couple of hours.

Ninety minutes into that couple of hours, put an appropriate pan into the oven to preheat to 230C (450F). I used an 8-inch (or thereabouts) Le Creuset casserole - you need something of about that size, and which has a lid. Once the pan is hot, drop the ball of dough in (carefully - don't forget the hot part!) stick the lid on and pop it in the oven. Bake for half an hour, take the lid off, then bake for 15-20 minutes longer. The finished loaf should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

It should be eaten as soon as it is cool enough to cut without collapsing, with as much fresh butter and jam as it can hold!

The wonders of modern technology...

Lacking inspiration for supper, but having a good supply of ingredients to use up before tomorrow's veg box delivery, I turned to Twitter. A simple post,

"Supper inspiration anyone? I have spuds, leeks, swede, carrot, eggs, cream that need using up. Butcher/ fishmonger/ deli all in easy reach"

but sent as I was walking out the door to pick up butter & flour for an afternoon baking spree. However, thanks to mobile phones and a handy service called Twe2, halfway round Marks & Spencer I got a reply
suggesting Irish stew & mash. Half a pound of lamb was picked up from the local butcher on the way home, and half an hour later the stew pot was in the oven!

Tuesday, March 24

Spring is... springing

This morning my allotment was basking in the (not terribly warm) spring sunshine. I was shivering in not-quite-enough layers and
  • Planting a tree ("Serbian Gold" Quince, Cydonia oblonga)
  • Watching the birds crashing about in the hedge, and a magpie trying to use the tiny feeder designed for robins and sparrows
  • Checking on my seedlings - red drumhead cabbage, pak choi, and boltardy beetroot are all showing their faces, and the onion sets are starting to sprout
  • Finding more & more things springing to life. Very pleased that my rose-scented geranium has survived the winter. The hazel tree has leaves all of a sudden, the gooseberry has tiny flower buds, more tulips are coming into flower every time I visit, and three of the four fruit trees I planted over winter are budding (the fourth is a Victoria plum, which I believe/ hope is slower to start than apples, pears & cherries.)

I came home to the wonderful news that we've got a (provisional) completion date for our house purchase - and it's only about three weeks away! So, this year's project list:

  1. Rewire, decorate & move in to new house (hopefully in that order)
  2. Plant & maintain allotment to provide a steady stream of veggies, fruit & flowers for the whole year, and especially flowers for Laura & Nick's wedding in May
  3. Plan & plant new garden, perhaps to include space for a chicken run
  4. Keep trying to conceive

Things I'll likely be writing about:

My allotment
Home improvement
Trying to be green

no doubt there'll be more, but these are the things that interest me, and that will be occupying my time this year.


Well hello.

A new repository for my ramblings about my home, garden, life...

I make no promises that it'll be updated regularly, though I hope that I'll find the will to do so.