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.