Summer sleeping.

I don’t know about you, but I find sleeping at the best of times difficult. And as the years progress and I get grumpier because of twinging hips or gritty knees, being too hot or too cold, spending too long on social media instead of a good book, it has all become a real drag to try and get even five hours of continuous sleep, I’ve long since given up on the elusive eight hours. Put that into the mix along with Lockdown and I have now ramped up my anxiety to previously unheard of levels along with dropping my activity level to getting on for zero. I was in trouble. Scratching along at three hours a night with a power nap in the day was doing no one any favours, I needed a solution.

Firstly there came beer and wine. A panacea that has been known for many a generation when tea won’t do, a night cap or two was often called for, and it had the additional effect of numbing the aches and pains. But in the long term we all know, that alcohol, is not the solution. So I looked for another aid that might help.

When I remembered that I had a silk eye mask from my advent calendar from Fortnum and Mason from a lovely company called Yolke, I rummaged through my cosmetic drawers and there it was, cast aside in the dark depths of winter but joyously found now it is bright as a summers day at 4.30 a.m.

And it really works, wearing this I can on a good day sleep through until 7.30 a.m. where as before I was waking at 5.00 a.m. even though I have heavy curtains, they still weren’t thick enough. And now I can leave them open a little bit to allow the refreshing morning breeze in, so important in the middle of our mini heat wave. The silk is supersoft on the eyes, the mask not too big that one feels claustrophobic in it, but big enough that it doesn’t slip off the eyes, its not too hot in the middle of the night and its not too tight. It feels like the most gentlest of security blankets, like a little silken hug, in the middle of the night. And my brain is becoming hard wired to doze of rapidly when I settle down to sleep and put it on, which is a plus I hadn’t thought off.

Along with that it really comes into its own if I need a power nap in the afternoon. Pop it on, the room goes dark, and I feel like a starlight from a 1950’s film but without the silk pyjamas and doze beautifully for an hour or so waking up wonderfully refreshed.

I shall definitely be renewing this when it becomes a little tired and it will become a permanent fixture of my night time apparel, much as cosy slippers and warm dressing gowns are. Try one, it might just change your life.

White Rabbits!

I popped around to Mum and Dad’s yesterday and sat in the garden with my Father for a few minutes. Yes I know technically we were still in lockdown but my Mother who was 83 a few days ago has not been doing so well and its just really difficult to get a true picture of what is really going on by standing at the doorstep. She did come downstairs from her bed and she looks a little stronger than she did the other day and had eaten a little breakfast and soup for lunch, so I am taking that as a sign of improvement.

Anyhoo, whilst chatting to Dad he reminded me it was White Rabbits tomorrow, still in the same excited tones that I remember so well from childhood. I remember being trained in the art of White Rabbits whilst a very young nipper and the frustrations that I had that I couldn’t remember to do it. Every month I’d ask my Dad when it was White Rabbits and he would dutifully remind me the night before. And I’d promise it would be the first thing that I would say. And of course I would forget and there would be a flash of disappointment across his face as the first thing he would ask as I entered the kitchen would be if I’d remembered to say White Rabbits and I would sulkily admit I had forgotten, but immediately promise I would remember next month, and so that continued much to my frustration for a couple of months.

Until one glorious sunny day that I woke up and remembered it was White Rabbits and said it out loud. I immediately jumped out of bed and raced down the stairs straight to the kitchen where my Dad was preparing breakfast and bubbling with happiness told him I had said White Rabbits. The joy in his face sparkled back at me.

This morning the first thing I said was White Rabbits, I shall ring him later and tell him, and I know he will be overjoyed just as he was some fifty years ago.

The End of May.

Time flies when you’re having fun. And drags into eternity when you’re not. What have I been doing? Trying to read a book from the reading group, I thought that the enforced lockdown had taken my appetite for reading away so have been plugging away at this book for six weeks. I now realise it wasn’t that at all and I am in a much happier place. On my only trip so far into a supermarket after getting on for ten weeks of lockdown, (we started early because of hubby’s age and health) I picked up some lovely flowers and a selection of novels one of which was this and from the very first page it was a lovely read. Now this might be in comparison to the drudgery of reading the previous book, but even so, fifty odd pages in and I am gripped, which can be no bad thing.

Along with beautiful brand new books, is there anything more delightful? I needed flowers, lots and lots of lovely flowers, I had been a flower free zone for ten weeks and to be honest it has made me feel rather low. I obviously need that bunch of flowers in my life more than I realised. So a beautiful bunch of white roses for £6.00. Fantastic value at Tesco, when you think of the work required to get them to me and they were just so lovely, they are 6 days old now, so you can tell how lovely they were.

And two bunches of Lilly’s at £3.25 a bunch, you can’t say fairer than that. These will come into their own in the next few days just as the roses are fading away.

What else have we been doing? Mainly hubby to be fair has been playing at the plot, nearly everything is in, just the leeks to go now.

Hubby celebrated a birthday in lockdown. We went to the park to feed the ducks and the enormous carp and had a lovely home made dinner of his choosing, plus birthday cake.

One son returned home having spent six and a half weeks with us, which is a very long time in someone else home and one son arrived as he is now homeless. It only took a pandemic to get us all under the same roof again.

Son no.2 does cook a magnificent Sunday lunch.

I’d like to say that knitting and sewing have continued, but they have not. I don’t know what it is. I feel constantly tired and am roaming the house at 2.00 a.m. unable to sleep and then I am lucky to get 4.5 hours and then I feel constantly tired. I suspect there are many of us that feel the same. Hubby has been going up to the plot, not me. I’ve been tied up at home looking after the boy(s) one way or another. Now I have a very competent cook I’ll be able to wander up their more often.

But today is my Mother’s birthday. Son no.2 has made her a frangipani topped Bakewell tart, we had several disasters with the pastry, I flipped the bottom of the tin up and broke the raw case as I was putting it into the fridge to chill before baking, oh how it did make us laugh. I’m hoping the pastry is not going to break her teeth, the tart looks great though.

So to break me of my low mood I shall try to post once a day in June. I think June might be an interesting month in what is happening with Covid, although we as a couple have agreed that casual shopping, coffee taking and group meetings are out until a reliable vaccine has been developed or Covid has turned tail and disappeared. I don’t need anything that I can’t get online, I don’t need the risk of someone coughing in my direction whilst sipping a hot coffee, no matter how splendid the coffee or conversation is. I do need to go swimming, I miss that terribly. But that will be a decision that needs to be made at the time, no point worrying about it at the moment, although I do hear that the level of chlorine may be upped in the swimming pools, although that won’t provide a safeguard in the changing rooms, so I will just have to read what the experts are saying. But we have good food, books, flowers and the internet. How lucky are we. Or as this postcard which I have in my bedroom says.

Look after yourselves everybody.

The plot, mid April.

Firstly apologies for the lack of posts. I just haven’t known what to write about. I’d known since January that we could have a global pandemic on our hands and since then have been in a state of preparation and high anxiety, as well as trying to get my loved ones to take this seriously. They all do now, but I am pretty sure they all thought I was batshit insane as I was telling them to prepare in January. And as predicted, it was the toilet roll that ran out first, I had no idea that flour would simply dry up for weeks on end, who knew the British public would take to baking sourdough in such numbers. One part of me thinks if anything good comes out of this, it is that people are going back to basics and learning to bake, cook, sew, knit, grow vegetables etc again, and that in my humble opinion is no bad thing.

So onto the plot, well, as you know rain stopped play in the Autumn so we had some work to do to prepare the ground and we started to dig, but were loath to get the greenhouse up and running until we knew what the government was going to do. Seeds aren’t cheap and to have many pounds worth of seeds dying through not being able to water them would have been just a step too far. So we waited. And while we waited we put the International Kidney, also known as Jersey Royals to bed the day before we knew the announcement would come as to which way it was going to go.

Thank goodness, the government agreed that allotment holders could go to their plots as long as all safety measures were adhered to. Never has there been such a collective deep breath of relief, heard the length and breadth of the British Isles. And along with that a part of me felt guilty that we could have somewhere that was a change of scene combined with a little activity when so many people literally have nowhere to go. For that matter the guilt hasn’t left me, and I am very aware of how difficult this lockdown is and in no way ever want to look as though I am gloating. Going to the plot isn’t as easy as you might think, we purposefully only go on days we think it might be quiet, for instance, I only went to the plot over Easter yesterday once the wind picked up and it became colder, knowing that this would steer many people away from it. And on days that we think it might be busy, hubby nips up early just to water inside the greenhouse and then comes back very quickly. It is clear that we haven’t reached the tip of the pandemic in the UK and it is just as easy to become infected at the plot as it is anywhere else, so we are being, very, very careful.

But let me share what is growing, because these are the fun bits I do like to share, as well as having a record for myself. The best bits if you like.

I’ve been pricking out the brassicas today. Brussel sprouts, savoy cabbage, purple sprouting, rainbow chard, kale to name but a few. The cauliflowers and leeks will need a few more days before it is their turn, and I need to sow some summer cabbages and another cauliflower. There will also be seed sowing of pumpkins, courgettes, runner and french beans and not forgetting the sweetcorn later in the month. It is too early at the moment, they will become too leggy before the risk of frosts at night has gone, so it is often better to bide ones time.

Peas and Mangetout are coming along. I’ve poked extra seeds into the pots where they haven’t germinated and the chilli’s that I started rather late on the window sill at home have been transplanted into individual pots. 15 chilli plants poked amongst the tomatoes should see us in chilli’s for the year.

Broad beans. Note the empty pots. I inadvertently left the tray on the lowest rung in the greenhouse, basically meaning it was on the ground. I had already mentioned to hubby that I needed to move it so the mice didn’t get to it, but completely forgot. The next morning low and behold there were big holes where big broad bean seeds used to be. So the mousetraps were immediately set up and baited with peanut butter and sure enough, one very fat mouse has been caught. No others so far, so it looks like he was a lone interloper and our beans remain safe, I have since reseeded the gaps, and we hope for a late crop this year. I am sorry if that all sounds rather brutal, but mice can be a real problem at this time of the year in the greenhouse and its best not to have too much sentimentality about it, just get on with the job.

Leeks are coming along. Two different varieties, one much better germination than the other I notice, I will have to make a note of that and decide depending on the crop which to order the next year. I normally grow Musselburgh, but decided to try a new one this year as well, I’ll let you know what happens.

I’m growing a few quick crops in the base of the greenhouse this year. These are spring onions and coriander and some little gems. We should get something for the table before the tomatoes arrive at the end of May.

And this is rocket, which will be a very welcome addition to our salads.

And this year, rather than surplus seedlings being shared with my next door neighbour plot holder, who I haven’t seen this year, so I am not sure if he is self isolating, I’ve decided to plant them as a temporary measure and crop them for salads in a couple of weeks. It’s an interesting experiment, it keeps me amused. I will also start more peas and beans off in a months time and then another month after that, so that we are still cropping well come the autumn.

So what is happening on the rest of the plot?

At last, the rhubarb is doing well. It was there when we arrived two years ago and it has never done anything. But this year it is starting to show what it is capable of. I probably won’t crop anything off it this year to give it a good chance and then it will probably last me out, I don’t think you can kill a rhubarb plant once it has taken hold. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that it is starting to do well.

The pear and apple tree are in full bloom. You know how much I love blossom, hence the blog name. 🙂

And even more excitedly, the blueberries, who we dressed with an acidic compost seem to have appreciated this extra bit of care and are in full bloom. We are very excited and are hoping for no late frosts.

Nothing to see, but the spuds have been planted.

We still have some leeks, they were planted very late as I was waiting for room on the allotment, which is why they are small and hence no onions, shallots or garlic this year, to give me more room for leeks. I might have to dig them up within the next week or so and prepare them for the freezer, rather than risk them bolting in the warm weather.

The kale is bolting like mad, but there are still a few meals of tender leaves left on it, so we will see how long it will last. Purple sprouting at the back, we should get another flush from that.

And last but by no means least, an island of rainbow chard. It will be interesting to see what it does, I’m not sure if it will bolt or flourish, time will tell I suppose.

And then on the way home, walking up the track, I spied tucked under a bush a few, but very precious, bluebells. Aren’t they glorious. And I felt sad and happy all at the same time. Bluebells are in the woods with very few people to see them. Life is so contrary at the moment, the world is telling us it is a glorious place, with spring, springing to life and to all intents and purposes everything looks healthy and happy, yet our world is on lockdown because we have hidden danger. Stay safe everybody, stay happy.

February.

Wow, a whole month went by and I just didn’t have the extra energy to blog. I think winter can be like that though, don’t you? We went up to the allotment today, even though it was cold and damp, windy and muddy, it felt so very, very good. The allotment is my happy place and sometimes in the darkest of winters I forget that. I might at that point in time look at it as ‘more work’. When really it is my space to be creative, thoughtful, content and happy, even if on occasion I do go home with sore muscles because its that time of year that much needs to be done. I just have to remember to look forward to when the bees are buzzing around my sunflowers, the tomatoes are ripening in the greenhouse and the warmth of the sun is warming my bones to their very core and I look and see lush green plants and ripe berries and smile as to the forthcoming autumn when I can safely gather in again.

Last autumn was good and bad. Everything went well, we managed to gather everything in and process it all. We still have freezers full of apples, pears and tomatoes along with pumpkins and butternut squashes ready to be used. Come November I managed to dig over a section of the plot and then it rained, and rained and then rained some more, until mid December at which point I just gave up on the idea of getting the plot winter ready and got on with the idea of Christmas and all the loveliness that it beholds.

Ravaged by winter and much work to be done, but the bare bones are still good.

Beds to sort out.

A final corner of the plot that needs to be sorted, to be done this year. Wood thrown around by the wind.

The good stuff. Purple sprouting just starting to appear. The month of February is when it is at its finest and most welcome in the kitchen.

Kale springing back to life with new tender growth, which will also be delicious.

My leeks put in rather late are starting to make good growth, I will start using the larger specimens in the next week or so.

And at last my Thyme has put on good growth. I love this herb and so far I have always been sad that I don’t grow enough of it, it looks like the tables have at long last turned.

Purple sprouting ready for Sunday lunch, later in the week I’m thinking the bitter kale with home made pasta, paremessan and lemon, maybe a touch of garlic, maybe a touch of chilli. Decisions, decisions.

Rosemary and Thyme for next weeks suppers and breads.

And this work in progress has at long last been finished. This building has not been in use for many a long year and now after the best part of a years work the developers have made this…

Isn’t it wonderful, a new social club, right next to the allotment a mere few minutes walk from home. We popped in today for a pint. It was lovely, we met old friends, who extolled the virtue of the place, apparently we had just missed the free sausages in a batch. The owners are working very hard to make this a sucessful venture.

And I can just imagine us having a quick sherbert on the way home after a dry and dusty dig.

Happy February everybody.

October no buy fail.

I think we can clarify that October’s no buy was a complete flop. Although I myself didn’t buy any make up or shoes so I am taking that as a win. Did you notice that specific ‘I myself’ because hubby surprised me with an advent beauty calendar from Fortnum and Mason. It is beautiful and it is very expensive and I do adore it and yes I know I am a very lucky girl. It will be fabulousness personified to play around with all of their luxurious goodies and I am looking forward to the next few months of playing very much.

So what did I spend on.

Well I bought some wool. I started a crochet blanket and realised that I would much rather have a larger blanket than one that won’t wrap around me, and a very kind lady on Ravelry was willing to part with some of her stash and help me out, at a very generous price too, so I am very, very happy. As is Eric who has already found my pile of granny squares.

There was a small clothing purchase. I looked high and low for my deep pink Dents gloves, (I think they call the colour claret) I have other colours but I love this pair and I could not find them. So after two weeks of searching, I realised they were lost and seem to remember not being able to find them at the end of last spring. It’s always a tricky time for gloves that, if you leave a place in the middle of winter you realise pretty quickly and go back for them, at the end of the spring you might just forget that you had them with you. This will be my second pair of gloves that I have lost in my life, the first and I remember the restaurant I left them in and rang them to which they denied all knowledge, was my first pair of hand knitted gloves, in a variegated yarn which had turned out beautifully. I still mourn the loss of that particular pair. But these are beautiful and more than make up for my recent loss.

There was a purchase of a small chest freezer, which I hadn’t realised I might need, but the plot has been doing quite well along with being able to purchase that whole lamb from a farmer just up the road, so I realised I would need another freezer to be able to cope with the overspill from the plot as well as extra items we enjoy at Christmas. I’m calling it my Christmas freezer and hope to have it shut down by the end of February.

And now we have the cookery book situation. It is such a bad time of the year to not buy, just as they release all of the new season cookery books of which to tempt the Christmas present shopper. I generally buy my own cookery books because I do have quite an extensive food/cookery book library. Not as many as Nigella Lawson, google her library, I am completely in awe.

Son no.1 bought me last Christmas How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry, which is a beautiful book and has some lovely recipes in it. The more I read of Diana Henry the more I liked her and it reminded me of a chicken book of hers that I wanted to buy when I visited Books for Cooks in Notting Hill about four years ago. I remember standing over ‘A Bird in the Hand’ for what seemed like hours debating whether to get it or an Italian book I’d had my eye on for a while, it was the middle of summer, I went with the Italian, but as soon as autumn approached I wished I had bought the chicken book. Books for Cooks have over 8000 books so to remember one that keeps calling to you is an impressive feat.

So when Diana Henry released From the Oven to the Table I bought it immediately, knowing that this type of food is right up my street. Then later I thought I’m just going to get that chicken book so ‘A Bird in the Hand’ arrived yesterday.

During that process I had started to watch Jamie Olivers new series on Veg and really enjoyed it, so VEG has come home to roost during the month as well.

Am I a lost cause on no buy? probably. Am I more aware of my buying patterns? Definitely. Is it fun to challenge one’s self? Always.

I think that I can definitely own at this stage in my life that I am an avid home cook who enjoys new seasons, new ideas, cultures and ingredients so will probably always buy and keep and use as many recipe books that I am able.

Cake tins.

Whilst handing over the freshly baked rich fruit cake to my Dad my Mum and I were making a pot of tea in the kitchen when she suddenly darted into the draw where she keeps her cake tins and rummaged around a little and found and presented me with her Christmas cake tin and asked me if I would like it.

Like it? I’d Love it.

I could see she was a little bit sad at handing over such a treasure and she tried to explain that it was old and a bit rusty but once you’d lined it really well etc etc. I brushed her worries aside and told her how I had hubby’s mothers original Christmas cake tin and how it too needs to be lined well, and how happy I was to have both cake tins. I mean to say for me, I couldn’t have been happier if you had given me the crown jewels. I’ve used hubby’s Mothers Christmas cake tin all the way through my 30 years of marriage, hubbys Mum gave up on Christmas cake making quite early really. And my Mother was until recently a very avid baker of a fruit cake, making I would think at least ten maybe more a year, it has definitely seen decent service. If only we could go to all the parties and Christmases that these cake tins have been used for, in much the same way that Scrooge visits Christmas past, it would be wonderful wouldn’t it.

Hubby’s Mum’s is on the left and my Mum’s is on the right. It made me laugh when I put them together, one can see that hubby comes from a family of four and we come from a family of seven just by the size of the cake tin!

There are no identifying marks on the tins but when one turns them over I am pretty sure that are made by the same manufacturer. They seem to feel the same, have the same welding and air holes etc. Both tins must be over sixty years old, hubby’s Mums might be getting on for eighty!

The beauty of these tins is that they are made specifically for the baking of a rich fruit cake, you would never bake a light cake in them because of their construction. I don’t know if you can see but they have a double layer on the bottom with an air gap in-between the layers which makes them perfect for the long slow cooking of a fruit cake, mine often stay in for 4 1/2 hours, sometimes a little more. If you used a normal tin, even with a good layer of grease proof you would run the risk of burning the bottom of the cake. In fact it’s almost a certainty, but with a cake tin like this and a good quadruple layer of brown paper around the sides tied up with string the cake cooks evenly and gently.

And along with this I have never come across one of this type of tin brand new. Which is I think a terrible shame, manufacturers are missing a trick there. And I’ve never seen a second hand one and believe me I have looked.

Yesterday Mum and I looked through her old recipe books for her original cake recipe, I wanted to christen my new to me tin and present her with a cake that she loved to eat and make from me. Sadly we could not find it, so I am in search of a recipe to fill such a big tin. I’ll find one soon before my next batch of baking.

I can safely say this tin has gone to a very good home.

October wet but busy.

As with all allotment holders that enjoy their food I have been busy gathering and storing mine. Tomatoes have been gathered in.

Apples and pears were picked and then processed for the freezer, we managed 22lb of peeled and cored apples this year. I’m so pleased because last year this apple tree gave us two apples and one of those was not much bigger than an acorn.

And with the left over peel I am making organic apple cider vinegar.

We have been pumpkin hunting, which was great fun and found three beautiful Crown Prince to add to our not so great harvest this year.

There has been chestnuting, an old custom from our town, all ages take part and this year the sweet chestnuts have been excellent – must have been all that rain.

It is a slow and arduous process to get the second skin off a sweet chestnut, but one that is worth it I think. My method is to snip the pointy end into a cross with a pair of kitchen shears then plunge five and only five chestnuts into boiling water for one minute, lift out into a bowl and run to the table with them and pull of the first shell and with the aid of a pointy knife lift off the second skin. This must be done while the chestnut is still hot otherwise the second skin known as the ‘tan’ which is the pellicle (and this tastes bitter and is best removed) welds itself back onto the chestnut. While I am doing this I have turned off the heat and thrown another five into the hot water, I repeat the process until the water becomes murky and cool and start again with fresh water. If the chestnut cools, simply plunge back into hot water to warm the chestnut and allow the second skin to be removed.

I have three pounds in weight in the freezer and a half bag to do this morning. Then that will do me, even though chestnuts are still bouncing off the parked cars sat underneath the chestnut trees. Unless I get a second wind, that is! You never know!

I’ve been baking rich fruit cakes this autumn. It is nice to get the oven going after a long hot summer, this is my fourth cake. I think there is a competition between hubby and my Dad as to who can eat them the fastest. I use Delia’s recipe, she’s never let me down although I do increase the ratio of nuts, cherries and citrus rind, but add 25g of extra flour to compensate and a little longer in the oven.

Along with that the autumnal crops are coming along. We ate some beautiful rainbow chard yesterday that I made into a garlic and cream gratin which we had with some very local sheep, which was delicious. The sheep had been reared and grown, slaughtered and delivered to me, all on the same lane. It seemed a natural process to have it with our home grown rainbow chard, also grown on the same lane. How’s that for food miles!

What with all the rain we have not got on top of the plot as yet, it looks like it is drying out for a few days so we should get a little autumn digging done, fingers crossed.

Creatively, I’m at the start of a crochet blanket, several socks are lodged in nooks and crannies around the house, a King sized quilt is half way through and ideas abound.