Aquarium.

Hubby and I have been talking intermittently for the last 25 years of getting a freshwater aquarium. I think there was even talk of setting up a salt water aquarium at one stage but after reading up about that particular adventure we both shuddered and closed that idea firmly away. Salt water aquariums are intense, a friend of my sons recently lost his extensive coral collection because his heater broke and the temperature of the water changed too quickly while he was getting a replacement. I think it was about two degrees, he was devastated.

So during the last lockdown we finally bit the bullet, chose a tank and started to set it up. It’s a slow process.

First set up tank on a firm base and strong floor, water is surprisingly heavy, this set up weighs well over 24 stone. Next put in substrate and slowly fill tank over 24 hours, you don’t want to fill a tank and find out it leaks like a sieve. Then leave to settle with pump going and start to dose with add water conditioner and dose with bacteria daily.

Dose with a few hardy fish, guppies are a good choice. Some people do fishless cycles, adding ammonia and bacteria to cycle their tank, but this is a big tank and we will have fair warning of any ammonia, nitrite, nitrate spikes. Note the tiny spry that accidentally came with the male guppies, we successfully grew her on, she turned out to be a female guppy ‘Quelle horreur” and was carefully returned last week, I do not want a tank full of babies.

Continue to add more plants, start adding C02 and plant food regime along with investing in lights for plants, add dragon stone and red moor root that has been soaking for weeks to remove the tannins. Test water daily and keep up with the water changes. One memorable day we did have a spike, we have since learned it was nothing to worry about, but we did a 50% water change twice, back to back. Nightmare! Took hours.

As tank begins to settle because the microbes are growing, this takes a couple of months. Slowly adding more fish.

Until eventually your dream starts to come true. I just have one more type of fish to add which I’m looking for and then it will be fairly complete. In my minds eye I wanted tiny fish shoaling through plants and natural structures along with a balanced eco system. I added shrimps the other day, Dad was most amused we had been shopping for three shrimps, loving the idea he couldn’t wait to come and see and yesterday sat transfixed by them.

Toast

As suspected the Balkan cheese bread makes excellent toast. This was perfect as a light lunch after such a sumptuous dinner. It hit a very savoury note and was lovely with just the merest scrapping of butter.

Balkan cheese bread recipe by Honey and Co.

Balkan Cheese Bread by Honey & Co.

My friend Noelle chose as our next bake Balkan Cheese bread by Honey & Co in The Baking Book. I must admit that I drooled a little bit at the idea and when Noelle presented her bake, I could almost smell its cheesy goodness, it looked so good. But then I went down with some lurgy and I’ve been out of action for over two weeks! But soon enough I felt better and after getting back into the swimming pool my appetite recovered and I felt a feast was in order to memoralise this lovely bread and also in memory of some of the loveliest lunches we have had in Turkish restaurants in London. They are such a great place to go for lunch with their piled high fresh salads and just baked and warm breads on every table, the pomegranate molasses salad dressings, the humous, the taramasalata, the freshly grilled meats. One always feels as though one has had the most decadent of feasts when one leaves their friendly restaurants. So in the spirit of feasting I got hubby to rummage in the deep freezer for some hogget lamb chops i’d seen recently, whilst I reread the recipe.

The dough having risen through the leeks and cheese just before basting with egg wash and more cheese!

And soon we had this beautiful bread fresh from the oven, it smelt so good.

Whilst I was prepping the lamb and covering them with some Harissa spices in the theme of Middle Eastern, hubby made a lovely humous with a paprika oil. Next he chopped salad whilst I put together a pomegranate molasses salad dressing and our lamb was ready to be cooked in a scorchingly hot oven.

What a feast!

The Balkan Cheese bread was so good. It was soft and cheesy with a lovely note from the leeks and spicing. I think it would go well with all manner of soups and salads, it would be perfection for a pack me up to take on days out and I’m really looking forward to the left overs as I think it will make the most amazing toast. It is definitely going to become part of my repertoire to enliven week day lunches and suppers.

And so (or should that be sow) it begins again.

April, ’tis a funny month. One never knows what one is going to get. As is Easter, one never knows whether it is going to be early or late. And within that differentiating spectrum I have always held dear to my own premise that the majority of the allotment must be done by Easter bank holiday Monday. One can always pick up plants for the garden at home and mow the grass, but to catch up on seed sowing and digging at the allotment, well that is a task in itself. There are many that use the full moons as their aid memoir to allow that slight trigger in the brain to remember tasks. And so it was with me, I looked at that this month, but then the next day after a full moon was cold and harsh, so I again stuck to my Easter regime. Whatever works for you is what I say.

It has been a struggle, but we have got there. But there have been changes. We have decided not to grow parsnips, carrots, garlic and onions from now on. These all require hand weeding, as does leeks and beetroot but they are worth it to us. Although we love these vegetables, we know that the wear and tear on us is simply not worth it, no matter how delicious they are.

So instead, we have put in a couple of rows of raspberries, a much more worthwhile crop I am sure you will agree and also I’m growing from seed some globe artichokes. Globe artichokes are most interesting to grow, they are like fingerprints, you never get the same plant twice, some fruits are spiky, some round leaved, some larger and some smaller.. successful plants are then grown on and used for cuttings. In my last plot I had quite a selection of them, it’s time to try my hand at this again.

And then apart from the usual vegetables, plus a couple more broccoli and purple sproutings to try I have gone with some herbs. We will see how well I do with those.

But the new potatoes are in, always a good start.

The kale keeps on going. A good veg in that hungry gap. Any veg at this time of year is one we are most grateful for and one I don’t tend to crop too much early on, lest I get tired of it.

And we have a delicious late cropping purple sprouting, I must check last years notes to find out which it is. I love a purple sprouting, something to look forward to in that hungry gap of the year.

The chives are growing, the mint is sprouting, spring is on its ways.

Jabbed

The insomnia is in full flow tonight, it is 5.15 a.m. and I’ve not had a blink of sleep, the trouble then is I just have to have a nap in the afternoon otherwise I will keel over and so it all begins again. Covid eh!

There is good news for me at least, because I am an unpaid carer to Dad, or maybe its because I have quite a few health problems of my own, whose to know they don’t tell you why, I’ve been bumped up the list and was vaccinated yesterday. It is a big relief to get a vaccine, bearing in mind I have been self isolating for over a year now because of hubby with only a brief respite to look after Mum before she died and to console Dad as best I could before we went back into lockdown at the start of January and then the winter blues on top of all that. It’s not been a good year. I feel all creativity has died in me, which is terrible really, but I just feel absolutely worn out, which is I suspect a type of depression and I’ll be very glad in three weeks time when I can walk around without so much anxiety when someone passes me.

I do have plans to start wandering into various towns and cities nearby on a regular twice weekly basis just as soon as I can and am making a list of coffee shops that I wish to visit as well as other interesting shops or galleries. I think Covid has taught me not to take things for granted and that life is for the living. So gallivant I shall go. Even if its just to go to Coventry Market and pick up some lovely fresh fruits and vegetables, along with a bunch of pinks or daffs that have been stacked high to sell for not much money from the pretty iron and glass circular flower stall.

Then hopefully this depression will lift and my creative spark shall return. I have plans to make another quilt this year, the fabric is sat in my sewing room, I think as the days lighten it might be time to start work on that. You would think that having been locked in we would have sorted out the sewing room, but apparently not. I think we were quite happy in many ways to just stare at the coal fire and try to relax.

I continue to make nice treats for hubby and Dad and last weeks was a lovely cinnamon and apple pie. They are lucky boys!

Stay well.

Little treats.

I treated myself to a three month cookery book subscription from Willoughby book club this Christmas. I’d been hinting for nearly three years that this may be a good Christmas present for me, but no one had taken me up on the idea so in the end I decided life is far too short, especially in the middle of a pandemic, and treated myself to it. The first book that landed through my door was a little meh. So I was a little disappointed after having waited to indulge myself for three years, but the second book was Wow, oh Wow. Although I received the American version which is in Farenheight, so I am not sure what that is all about and the spine was damaged…

The book itself was from a restaurant in London and although I had never been to that particular restaurant the style of food was very familiar to me having nested in London for several years. I adore the use of pistachios and almonds along with scented floral or citrus oils in cakes, to me they add so much more interest than a gooey icing. Along with interesting pastries both sweet and savoury of a middle eastern styled nature and i’m your gal. I remember on one of my very first trips into London many, many years ago to attend a Loop workshop (Loop being a lovely knitting shop in Islington) our mid morning treat was some lovely middle eastern styled cakes filled with pistachios and almonds and they were absolutely heavenly. Coming from the middle of Warwickshire it was not something that I was used to, but having lived in London I became aware of just how popular this style of cooking is and I can completely understand why, it is just so damn tasty.

So that night, I nestled into my bed, reading glasses at hand and started at the beginning of Golden Sweet and Savoury Baked Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey and Co, which I found out is the American version and the version you’d be looking for is The Baking Book by Honey and Co. The only difference being seems to be the usage of F or C for temperature.

Anyway I settled in and I started at page one and it was a delight. Their back story was lovely and as I read further I could feel myself drifting into the shop to watch the jams being made in the Dead of Night and the chapters that came next were filled with exactly the sort of thing I would want to eat at First Light whilst rushing off to work or for Mid Morning Elevensies on my day off, quickly followed by chapters on High Noon Lunch for the hungry office workers and Tea Time for mums and children after school and After Dark just because it was delicious. And mostly I wanted to bake them all, they reminded me of so many places I have visited and eaten at and yet my own repertoire of eastern baking has remained quite small.

But another thing happened at about two in the morning after I’d been reading the book and absorbing their recipes and stories for about two hours, I knew there was one person that would absolutely love this book, it was just so her, from the jam making to the bread baking and use of nuts in her buns and cakes and so I did a little bit of googling and by a process of elimination I assumed she had not bought this book but she had actually been to Honey and Co some years previously. So I bought her a copy! And that one simple act has given me so much pleasure because she did indeed love the book I sent and my instincts were right. I’m sure we will both get many years of laughter from this book as we share our trials and tribulations of trying new recipes.

I love a pistachio cake, I quite like it when it has been dipped in chocolate and then warmed so that the chocolate just warms and one has to eat it with a fork lest one gets messy fingers and the chocolate just glues the lips together in a delicious sounding smack, to be taken with good strong coffee in-between art galleries on a days excursion in London. So when I saw the recipe for Blood oranges and Pistachio cake I knew it was the first one to try for me. Sadly I had no blood oranges, so its not quite as pretty as it could be, but then they are not quite as pretty as they could be for more reasons than that.

It was going well until we realised that the muffin tins would be a bit small and I had to make a quick decision as to what would be okay and I found some cake tins that I don’t think I’d used for many a long year. Hubby and I rescued everything out of the muffin tins and it looked to be going well.

But in our haste to transfer the ingredients we had forgotten to butter the cake tins before putting the mix of sugar and cornflour topped with an orange slice.

So when I went to tip them out, it left every single orange slice stuck to the bottom. I just hope Paul Hollywood isn’t judging these, I would be thrown out of the competition!

But they tasted so good. I will be making these again, and maybe a few without the orange so that I can dip them in chocolate and relive a few old memories.

Day 50 of no grocery shopping and I cracked.

Yesterday I had a really emotional day, not in a good way. I’m not sleeping, when I do sleep its only for an hour and then accompanied by weird dreams and then I want to sleep during the day. Lockdown has really gotten to me. I also found out that although the area we live in has a relatively low infection rate, the area Son no.1 lives in is sky high and parts of it are now being tested for the South African variant.

I check our local daily rates regularly and I noticed that they have just started a blip upwards, mmm. Not good.

So I ordered a delivery from Tesco with all the wonderful fruits and vegetables that we have been missing.

Then I cancelled it.

Then I had another breakdown.

After my breakdown I watched Coronation Street, I haven’t seen it for 15 – 20 ? years.

It hasn’t changed, i’m thinking some of the actors don’t seem to age as fast as I am.

Then I started to clean the oven.

This never happens…

I go and lay down and think ‘buggar it’ and order a huge selection of fruit and veg from Morrisons via Amazon.

I’m pretty stressed about it.

But it has been fifty days and if we get away with it and we do another fifty days I may be vaccinated by then.

And who knows it may become a new thing for us to go much longer between shopping trips. I am sure sometimes supermarket shopping can be used just as a form of entertainment.

Maybe shopping seven times a year could be a thing. Easily doable with the supplementation from the allotment in the summer.

We shall see.

But tomorrow we shall have a pancake day a week early to use up all the tired looking lemons and limes in the fridge. Hubby is very much looking forward to it.

And in the shopping being delivered tomorrow I have squirrelled away two sirloin steaks, prawns and ice creams.. to have our own little valentine celebration to show the man I love just how sorry I am that he has to put up with me having breakdowns during lockdown.

Stay safe everyone, until next time.

Sun-dried tomato, olive and rosemary buns.

Having run out of all bread it was time to make a big batch of buns. I’m into buns at the moment or batches, rolls, baps or whatever the slant of your dialect dictates them to be. I like getting just one or two out of the freezer at a time, letting them defrost overnight and then warming them so that they are perfectly fresh.

Today I wanted something tasty, something savoury to cheer up what might be getting quite dreary. Although so far we have managed to keep most meals reasonably cheerful.

But today I wanted Punch.

So I started off a couple of rounded teaspoons of commercial yeast with a little water and a 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar, when frothy I added to 1000g of strong Canadian white flour with a hydration of 72% warm water and about 10g salt. Let it whirl on the dough hook of my Kenwood for ten minutes and then let it prove whilst I rummaged in my cupboards.

Where I found a small jar of sun dried tomatoes and in the fridge a small jar of olives that had been started and next I found some freshly picked rosemary from the plot, but not too much. Perfect I thought and gaily chopped everything fine and mixed into the well risen dough for its second prove.

Next I made 18 buns which weighed 4oz exactly, let them rise and then popped them into a very hot oven, turning it down to just under 200c for 25 minutes.

Oh they smelled so good.

The flavours were wonderful, and the hint of rosemary had real longevity, it stayed with you for ages.

40 days and counting.

Forty days without the distraction of a grocery delivery or shopping trip. Even though I know we are more than capable of going for much, much longer on this journey, I would welcome the joy of gazing and smelling of fresh fruits and vegetables that are so abundant in our grocery shops and supermarkets. But more than that I would not welcome Covid, so we remain strong, if not a little taunted by the idea.

The last post I wrote about the AstraZeneca vaccine only being 8% effective in the older generation proved not to be correct, such is the speed that false news can travel in this day and age. All is well where efficacy in the older generation is concerned. We have however passed 100,000 deaths. This leaves all of us very sad indeed.

In good news for our little family, Dad and hubby have both had their first jabs and in both cases next day complained about pain in their vaccination site, I am taking this as a good sign that the vaccine is doing its job.

Our fridge continues to do a fantastic job, but we really are at the end of fresh tomatoes, we have a few carrots left, lots of onions, sack of potatoes and the allotment. We also have a good selection of meat and vegetables in tins and the freezer from my Brexit stash, so all is not lost. So to cheer us up we rescued the smoked salmon out of the freezer to make us a cheering lunch with home made coleslaw from our own cabbage and a little beetroot which we ate with a slice of homemade bread.

We try to eat fresh vegetables in some way or another every day, I think this is so important, but along with that we are taking our multi vitamins, vitamin D and fish oils supplements to try and keep us in fine fettle.

I decided to have a look through my cookery bookcase and found these two beauties. Are we not fortunate to live in a country that the potato is a staple of our diet. There is just so much one can do with it and I feel it is so much more nutritious than wheat or rice and I think far tastier. These two books have given me fresh inspiration for our suppers, but it is the humour of Potato Pete and other little ditties that have given me the most pleasure. I shall share some with you. Until the next time, stay safe.

36 days without shopping.

So the pandemic continues, earlier today the signs were encouraging, since then there maybe a problem in the over 65’s with the AstraZeneca vaccine with only an 8 percent effective rate and Boris is implementing strict new border controls. Read into this what you will, but it looks like its not going as well as we had hoped.

Our food stores are going well, I’m starting to miss things like lettuce and cucumber but we still have a small amount of fresh fruit, tomatoes and lots of onions, along with a sacks of potatoes and the milkman delivers. One of the items I have been very grateful for was when we got back from London, we replaced the fridge and freezer with two high end fridge/freezers from John Lewis. Put together they look very much like a large American freezer, although they don’t have the ice making capabilities, but we bought an ice machine at the start of the first lockdown to combat that particular problem. I’d become tired of my large larder fridge which was on its last legs anyway. Getting down to it at the bottom and the back resulted in groans because of stiff backs and knees, and this is wonderful with the top half being the fridge comprising of two very efficient salad drawers, (so I have four altogether!) and various other compartments and the freezer in the lower half. It is so easy to see everything.

The electronic temperature controllers are superb, it has literally extended the life of salads, tomatoes etc by weeks. I’ve reduced the temperature in the fridge to 2c after reading that every degree lowered in a fridge can extend the life of vegetables and fruits by one week, and there is never any freezer burn and tomatoes, peppers, lettuce etc remain stable and in good condition. It’s been an absolute god send.

Of course we do have the plot.

And we are able to shop that as regularly as weather or inclination allows. The roots are a little small, but still very tasty, the carrots will need to be lifted soon as the carrot fly larvae seems to be enjoying them and I’ll need to prep them and freeze them, but the beets and parsnips are standing well. The leeks look better for a bit of cold weather as do the brussels. The kale is doing well, but then it always does and we have taken to having green smoothies nearly every day to give us a vitamin burst of fresh vegetables.

We quite like kale, carrot, tomato, orange juice and chestnuts from Crackly Woods all whizzed together with a big dollop of local honey. It goes down well as a second breakfast! We have nearly finished the rainbow chard, so I will have to let that recover, but it has been splendid in stir fries as has the kale and we are waiting for a second flush of purple sprouting. We have about five small cabbages left, which is good as it is one of Dad’s favourites and 3 large pumpkins left in store.

Dad has been enjoying my home cooking and has eaten everything I have presented which has included many different pies, cottage pies, stew and dumplings, lamb hot pot, meat free roast dinners, various other roasts and most recently lasagne. Lasagne! I hear you cry. Yes, I know. He enjoyed it very much I believe, but has asked if he can have a serving of cabbage with it next time. That did make me giggle, ‘of course Dad, whatever you want’. He has particularly enjoyed the chicken and turkey pies with leeks, having never really eaten leeks before and has adored with a capital A our roast pumpkins… I don’t think he has ever had them. So I make sure his meat free roast dinners are plentifully supplied with roast pumpkins, roast potatoes, mashed potato, carrot and swede crush and both brussel sprouts and cabbage along with a home made yorkshire pudding and lots of good gravy. I think they are his favourite meal. I think he is quite shocked that he enjoys with such gusto a meat free meal. Which has made life simpler in providing him meals that suit his doctors dietary advice. Hubby and I spent the afternoon yesterday batch cooking for him and made another 17 meals, so he has 37 meals ready in our freezer. I like to keep ahead of the game, especially as my stores will get lower and we are trying to go as long as possible without contact with anyone.

My walk from Lands End to John O’Groats from The Conqueror website is going much slower than I had imagined. Mainly because the world and his wife walk down my lane, so I have taken to walking at night, which has been quite nice, but the rain and the snow put me off. It’s no worry, I’ve given myself 18 months to complete, so I’m sure I can catch up, when the infection rates drop.

And lastly we bake treats. The last of the desiccated coconut and ground almonds made these delicious little macaroons. Most of them are in the freezer to be dished out very occasionally. They were a good way of using up some egg whites that I had left over from making a custard to make a vanilla and blackcurrant ripple ice cream, which was really very good and worthy of our home grown blackcurrants.

They were made in a baking pan for tiny treats that Noelle had suggested from Lakeland, I’m so pleased I bought this lovely tray, I am sure it is going to come in very useful.

Tomorrow I must revive my sourdough, as I’m just about to run out of bread.

I hope everyone remains safe and well, until next time.