Mid June at the Allotment, 2022.

As some of you may know my hubby started radiotherapy on Boxing day after quite invasive surgery on his mouth. The last ten months have been difficult and I suspect will be in their various challenging ways for the months to come. This is one of the reasons for my radio silence over the last few months. I haven’t felt able to witter on about seemingly unimportant things while my lovely hubby has been going through the wars. However his surgeon and oncologist remain positive, even though hubby has all sorts of very alarming conditions on what seems to be an almost daily basis and so it is I have considered that now is the time to carry on my witterings about the life I love, the last ten months have been far too grown up for me.

And so we turn to the allotment, well I have to tell you my loyal set of readers that the allotment this year is… Magnificent. Seriously, it’s just Magnificent. The idea of the paper pots filled with compost and then a couple of seeds of the root vegetables beetroot and parsnip, which were then thinned to one single plant has come up trumps. We are now enjoying tennis balled sized beetroots, this early in the season that have such a delicate taste that we are both giddy with delight. Beetroot normally taste to me at least quite earthy. I don’t mind this, it is just part of their complex flavour profile, but these that have been grown in compost and their root is still firmly in the middle of their tiny pot of compost have such a clean and vibrant flavour it is quite remarkable. We have still to find out how the parsnips have coped with such a method. Their leafy tops are the best we have ever had, but I fear that because they are a long root that this method will have easily stumped them. But we are not growing for the show bench, we are growing for the pot, so if we have stumpy fat parsnips for the kitchen then so be it. It is far better than no parsnips at all which is what has happened for the last few years, with their slow germination and almost impossible to see where they have germinated through the ever invading tiny weeds that have sprouted.

The courgettes are now starting to grow, I will soon be in the middle of preparing for the freezer and making delicious courgette chutneys again. We have had a very generous amount of mange tout, I am hoping to pick some peas in the next day or so, we have had pounds of strawberries and many, many globe artichokes. We picked the rhubarb this year for the first time and I have made pots and pots of rhubarb, strawberry and orange jam, which is absolutely delicious.

The blackcurrants, redcurrants, blue berries and blackberries are ripening. I have discovered that the mystery tree is indeed a cherry and I can now find out how to prune it. The broad beans are as strong as they are tall, which is nearly four feet and I am looking forward to many broad beans in my future. The corn looks strong and the pumpkins are galloping along. The brassicas which were washed out last year, which was so upsetting are doing well, we have had the delicious brokali, a cross between broccoli and kale, which is a very vigorous grower and in the next day or so will be enjoying the first heads of the true broccoli. The tomatoes are just about to produce their first ruby red offering and we have eaten many delicious cucumbers along with little gem lettuces. Failures are only one so far, Chinese cabbage, which did so well in all that rain last year, has bolted. It has had water every day, so this is not the vegetable for us. We are waiting for the new potatoes to finish flowering, so another couple of weeks for those.

Already thoughts turn to next year and always with my ear to the ground I was alerted to Wilko’s half price flower and vegetable seed sale. I missed it last year so was very pleased to be able to spring into action and pounce at just the right time. We have enough seeds to fill an allotment and are only missing some of the key elements which will be readily filled by the allotment seed catalogue later in the year.

And all sorted with the old seeds ready for next year, or maybe this year if we decide to over winter some broad beans.

In other news, I started a herb garden this year to have by my kitchen door. Having found that it is all very well to have lovely fresh herbs at the allotment but often as not I have forgotten to bring a bunch of sage, rosemary or mint home with me and then may well rely on an earlier dried version. The plot will still give me a large amount for drying.

We have ten herbs here, some soft which will need replacing next year and some hardy, all apart from the rosemary plants whose seed failed grown by me. Rosemary, Basil, Coriander, Spearmint, Sage, Parsley, Chives, Garlic Chives, Dill and Thyme. I used Budget Seeds for my herb bed adventure. I have always felt it quite ridiculous to buy herb seeds that have 400 or a 1000 for well over the £2.00 per packet, I am not going into business, selling herb plants! So when I came upon this company I was very pleased. Mostly they are 29p a packet, so this whole venture, combined with old terracotta pots, two wooden planters from an Amazon find and some compost has not cost much money. I will definitely be looking through their stock again for next year.

Well that is me, catch you next time.

Pumpkins

Having realised that hubby was not going to be able to partake of his usual diet this year I started to process the pumpkins for storage slightly earlier than usual and managed to freeze all those that were left, which was quite a few, in January.

By the end of the week I had fifty 500 gram bags of gently roasted sweet pumpkin in my freezer. Which is slightly daunting! But then if I use one a week, it’s a years worth and if I try to occasionally use two a week, I should just about finish them before our next crop.

The pumpkins I choose to grow are a lovely culinary variety called Crown Prince, so far, every other pumpkin I have tried has paled into insignificance compared to the sweet taste of this fine example. Pumpkins are packed full of vitamins and minerals, are low in calories and high in fibre and their bright orange colour means they are packed full of beta carotene which is a powerful antioxidant. A power house of a vegetable that just happens to satisfy and taste good and is equally happy in sweet and savoury dishes. Is there anything more versatile?

So there has been a little more experimenting this year.

There have been souffles which were then twice baked, with a spinach base and cream sauce.

There was a lovely recipe passed onto me by Noelle, Corn Bread with Leeks and Feta by Diana Henry. Which came just at the right time as I had roast pumpkin in the fridge and leeks freshly dug from the allotment. I didn’t have the feta but a lovely selection of cheeses looking for a job to do. It was absolutely delicious and one I must make again very soon.

Pumpkin scones have been made and enjoyed, recipe from Soup, Broth and Bread by Rachel Allen.

There have been pastry rolls stuffed with a pumpkin, chestnut and stilton filling ready for drinks and snacking over Christmas. They went down very well.

There have been many pumpkin and potato topped cottage pies, which are so tasty. I think Dad enjoys the novelty value of an orange topped pie.

Along the way there have been many roasts and soups, pasta and rice dishes but tonight (which was the inspiration of this particular post) I realised I had hit the ultimate with a two course pumpkin meal.

Firstly, I made a version of a humous which was homegrown dried runner beans along with home grown haricot beans (in their bean format – I grow white beaned runners) soaked for 24 hours and then cooked until nicely soft, made into a humous with peanut butter (having not found the tahini, but any port in a storm) good olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, cumin, hot smoked paprika and water to slacken with a generous amount of flakey sea salt. It was very good.

Then generously applied to some home made sour dough that had been toasted, with a dusting of more hot smoked paprika and a spritz of lemon along with some toms and cucumbers to munch alongside.

Which was followed by a piece of my first ever pumpkin pie. Hubby thinks I’ve made a pumpkin pie before but I can’t remember it. This pastry case was baked blind before filling and I used evaporated milk as that is what I had to hand. Basically it is made like an egg custard with the addition of good amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin. Dad really wasn’t sure when hubby took him some, but then really enjoyed it – I knew he would.

So that is the end of my culinary pumpkin adventure. Well, not the end, I’ve only got about 30 bags to go!

Belated Mother’s Day Feasting.

I really hadn’t realised it had been so long until Noelle popped a little message through, thank you Noelle. After much navel gazing i’ve decided that the only way forward is to record all the best bits and we are just going to ignore all the gritty stuff. Agreed?

Soo, Son no.1 was tied up looking around Bristol Mother’s Day weekend, as he has a fabulous new job to go to. I’m gutted. But he assures me it is mostly working from home and he is not intending to move just yet. So the weekend after he came on Sunday to help with the rotovating up the plot and to shift some muck from the bottom of the track. I had intended to go and help do some pricking out of the cabbages, but it was too cold for me, only 4 c, so I stayed at home and cooked.

Firstly I slow roasted a joint of beef that had really been in the freezer for too long and was a little past its best, so roasted with an inch of water in a cast iron pot with its lid on in the oven and sure enough, it became tender under the long and gentle moist heat. I allowed it to cool before slicing wanting it to form the centre piece of a long lunch and to have the option of a dressing that I make which involves coriander leaves, chilli, garlic, fresh ginger, soy, sesame oil, black rice vinegar, a little sugar and a spritz of lime. If that doesn’t wake the beef up, I don’t know what will.

And that was all of the plan that I had, the boys went off up to the plot and I then just pottered. Pulling ingredients out from here and there, thinking what would go and what wouldn’t. You have to also bear in mind I hadn’t been shopping for over a week.

A day and a half ago I had started to soak some home grown haricot beans. So I cooked those off and gave them a salad dressing of french mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and dried mixed herbs. At the same time I started off some rosemary focaccia, made with my own dried rosemary, this time with a commercial yeast for speed.

I found a butternut squash in my fridge and prepared that and put it in the oven for roasting along with some lovely red peppers.

Son no.1 had called earlier from the supermarket as he was on the way over and asked if there was anything I wanted so I requested some salad leaves and cherry tomatoes.

And as I looked at all my dishes I thought maybe a little crunch was needed so I quickly sliced a lovely sweet Spanish onion and dressed it with a little red wine vinegar and sugar.

My thoughts then turned to pudding. And I knew we still had a rather large stash of blackcurrants from the summer. They are my favourite of all fruit and I guard them with my life, lest they end up in hubby’s porridge during winter. So I quickly put together a crumble topping with almond and that could be put into the oven just as I was serving lunch.

By that time nearly two hours had passed and just as I was pulling the rosemary focaccia out of the oven and basting the butternut squash for its last twenty minutes the boys were back home, pink faced and happy with their work. Just enough time for hubby to nip to the shops for some good vanilla ice cream.

And may I say, it made a delightful plateful.

And the blackcurrant crumble.

In all its blackcurranty stickiness

was sublime.

And to while away my morning with I had the company of these most gorgeous flowers, which have really brightened my mood. They are really so beautiful. Carefully chosen by son no.1

After such a lovely lunch we chatted away all afternoon, until it was time for our son to leave. Needless to say I packed him up with a tasty supper and hearty lunch for the next day, carefully hiding the leftover blackcurrant crumble at the back of the fridge!

It was such a lovely afternoon, one I will treasure always.

The start of 2022

Hubby started his radiotherapy on Christmas day bank holiday Monday, yes I am confused this year too. It is going well, he’s eating well and has actually gained a kilogram over the Christmas period which the doctors were very pleased about. He is getting tired now though and although I have expected it, I hadn’t expected such lethargy so early and do keep pushing him as he has a long road to travel and I don’t want him to lose muscle tone, or too much muscle tone if we can help it.

So, we are in self imposed lock down again. If we can get through his treatment without him catching covid and having an interruption to the treatment so much the better. Well the doctors think it is pretty vital actually so into lockdown we have gone. Which of course is very difficult when you have an aged father, although he is taking it well and hopefully, fingers crossed remains in fine fettle for the next six weeks.

I’m glad we have finally got a date and started the treatment, there have been a few little bumps in the road as you might imagine and starting treatment has eased the stress of at least that.

Fortunately I have a war time mentality and the freezers and cupboards are always well stocked, so we need little to carry on apart from a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables once a fortnight supplied by Oddbox, a delivery service that fights food waste which I am trying. Which will be a very useful supplement to our frozen fruits and vegetables from the allotment, our pumpkins and our fresh brassicas, brussel sprouts and leeks up the plot, along with jams and pickles that have been made during the year. I have a supermarket delivery booked for the 14th of January, but shall cancel if we don’t need it. Every contact with another person brings such risks.

But within that I do need to exercise and as I’ve had to put my swimming on hold due to the risk of covid I have taken to walking more than normal, so Rupert has perked up as his regime has completely changed and rather than a quick trot around the block, he is being taken far afield, and as a mature dog now, he’s really enjoying it. I’d quite like to get back to my twenties and walk for hours on end, but that might be a bit unrealistic, but I’d certainly like to get up to an hour and a half walk, possibly two on a good day. We shall see.

I haven’t seen the plot for a couple of weeks, Christmas and then rain, rain, rain. There is no point even trying to get onto it when there is water laying in the road, I’d just sink into the mud. It is going to get colder in the next few days, I am reading that as drier, so hopefully I’ll be able to get going on it, if only to plant some broad beans in a tray for the spring. Not forgetting to set the mouse traps for the hungry mice, who adore broad bean seeds.

My knitting brings comfort, but losses too. Practically every time I finish a hat it gets swiped. So far I have only managed to keep one for myself, I’m just finishing another so maybe that will make two. The recipients seems very happy, so it is all to the good.

I must get back on with the quilt, I became side tracked from it earlier in the year when son no.1 stayed so I needed to tidy the sewing room/guest room and haven’t restarted again.

Wishing you all a happy new year, may the next year be so much better than the last.

Christmas 2021

As with all Christmases since the start of the pandemic this one was no different in the sense of confusion as to what to do. For health reasons we needed to try and make sure hubby does not catch covid so we basically cancelled Christmas yet again, but then, a ray of sunshine poked through our dark cloud highlighting its silver lining and son no.1 was allowed to come home for Christmas as he’d been working from home and had been self isolating for the last five days.

Just before he came home I had finished the Christmas cake decorating. I think that was reasonably successful.

The top cake for us and the penguins for Dad. Hubby is well into the cake now and I’m not sure if it will last until new year!

The Christmas tree was very nicely decorated by hubby this year, I think he did a wonderful job.

It may be a little wobbly, but it is very well loved and makes us both very happy to see it twinkling in the corner of the room.

This year I decided to try and grow some paper whites.

And they surprised us by beginning to flower a couple of days before Christmas. They are getting a bit leggy now so I think they need a little more gin to slow down their growth.

Son no.1 and I managed a Christmas walk to feed the ducks and walk by the lovely houses by the castle.

The onion bagels have been made, so it must be Christmas Eve,

As were a big batch of pumpkin, chestnut and stilton rolls, which were very popular with hubby and son no.1.

On Christmas morning we managed to nip round to my Dad’s to say Happy Christmas and managed a quick selfie.

We managed a quick selfie too.

I think the turkey was the best we have ever had.

And hubbies Christmas pudding was a triumph.

And Christmas must nearly be over as the last of the turkey has been made into a turkey and ham pie with homegrown leeks and mushrooms.

We had a lovely few days, feasting and relaxing, it was the best of times.

Corn bread with leeks, pumpkin and cheese.

My good friend Noelle shared with me a very successful dish that she had just made using as her inspiration a recipe in The Telegraph by Diana Henry, Cornbread with leeks and feta. As soon as I saw who the cookery writer was I knew it would be tasty having dabbled with three of her books, A bird in the hand, my first love hankered over for nearly a year from the Books for Cooks bookshop in Notting Hill’s famous bookshop, who doesn’t need a new recipe for chicken every now and then. How to Eat a Peach, a lovely recipe book bought by son no.1 for Christmas having heard about its beauty on Radio 4 one day while travelling for work and he remembered it and purchased it for me. A delightful book that I love to while away a warm sunny afternoon with. And From the Oven to the Table, which is my kind of rustic simple cooking that is bunged into the oven and left to its own devices filling my home with tempting smells and then filling hungry tummies until contented all from one dish, what could be better.

And so I read further and realised that I just happened to have, with slight adjustments to the key ingredients the doings to make a lovely savoury dish that would do justice to the pumpkin that had been roasted earlier in the day, the homegrown leeks freshly pulled from the allotment and an assortment of cheeses that were sat quietly in the fridge waiting for their moment of glory.

My Ingredients

350g leeks

450g onions

500g cooked pumpkin

35g butter

3 tablespoon virgin rape seed oil

350g assorted cheeses in this case Saint Agur, Camembert and a lovely strong cheddar, grated or chopped into small pieces

175 g polenta

2 tsp baking powder

4 medium eggs

oven 180 c

I prepared the onions and sautéed them in half the butter and half the oil until they were very soft and brown on the edges and then added the finely chopped and washed leeks and sauteed them until everything was soft. Added 280 ml of boiling water to a pan and added the polenta and baking powder and stir well, add a little more water if it seems too stiff and dry but not too much as the cheese and eggs will loosen it. Then add the cheese and beat whilst still hot and add the still hot leeks and onion, next add the roasted pumpkin that has been mashed up and stir really well and then add the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste, but remember the cheese will contain salt so be careful not to over salt. Using a tablespoon or so of the remaining oil grease a baking dish of 30 cm by 40 cm and transfer all of the mixture and pop into an oven for 40 minutes, remove from the oven and using a butter knife pop the rest of the room temperature butter onto the top of the dish and as it melts spread it around the top and pop back into the oven for another 15 or so minutes. Leave it to cool slightly before cutting.

I’m very grateful to Noelle that late afternoon for sharing her inspirations as I just happened to have all the ingredients to hand and hadn’t really thought about our supper. Barry was able to enjoy his piece and went in for seconds and I had mine with a hearty salad, which was glorious. The left overs were delicious and not a scrap of it was wasted. We will do this again, it was so easy and very tasty. Next time perhaps with a little crispy bacon and sweetcorn if the pumpkin has not been roasted.

Blackberry Whisky.

I can’t remember where I first read about River Cottage producing their first Christmas recipe book, Christmas at River Cottage. I suspect it was some self promotion in the Sunday Times by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or just a passing comment that I noticed on the internet, but my interest was piqued so I picked up a copy. To be honest and I know Christmas is looming but I’ve only glanced through it so far. But the recipe for Blackberry Whisky called to me and I happened to mention it to a friend, who does not have television or I think Sunday Times’s much preferring to gather his news through the medium of radio and he immediately waxed lyrical about hearing Hugh F-W on the radio and how if you stored the blackberry whisky for three years it transformed into the nectar of the gods.

The recipe looks to me a little short on sugar, but having read around the subject I think the idea is you add sugar at the end while bottling. I like this idea as I often find things too sweet for me, so it is good to retain control. I also could not fit the required 2kg of blackberries into my jar, just fitting in 1.2 kg. But again that was a very generous amount of blackberries according to some other recipes I’ve found, so I am sure it will work out.

Day 1, adding the frozen blackberries, all picked from my own blackberry bush, so I know they haven’t been sprayed.

One full bottle of whisky added along with the sugar. It will be shaken daily until the sugar has dissolved and then when I remember for about three months or so and then decanted into a bottle.

We will see. I will have to save some to see what it is like in three years time. It might become a regular item to make. I’m not normally a fan of whisky but I know a few that are.

Christmas card writing.

I do enjoy the ritual of the Christmas card writing, especially when we seem to be about to undergo another round of covid mark iv or is it mark v I seem to have lost count. It is a simple way of showing your affection for the people in your life, no matter how infrequently you might see them. I had for a few years decided not to write Christmas cards and to donate to a charity, but it never felt the same and sometimes I think we live in too much of a nanny state which dictates what is seen as acceptable and right and proper and which is not. And if I want to waste my money on paper, stamps and ink, then I will, although I do concede and always buy charity cards these days. Long gone are the days where I would buy a bumper pack of 50 from Woolworths, the cardboard being that thin they would barely stand up to scrawl my good wishes to all and sundry. Although I wasn’t as bad as my friend Georgina, she used to carry a selection around in her handbag so she could write one, whilst on the hoof, to whoever she came across. I’m really not sure what the boys in the Kings Arms made of it all. But they all got a card.

This year I couldn’t find my inks, so I borrowed hubby’s precious pot of green ink. I’ve never chosen green ink for myself mainly because at school someone decided that if boys wrote in green ink that they were not to be trusted, that they were invariably mad. This was followed up by a close friend, who after a pretty nasty divorce decided to put an advert in the lonely hearts column to see if she could conjure up a few dates. Piles of letters came, who knew that there were so many keen men in the days before the internet. And even though she had gone to a different school, she immediately discarded the men who had written in green ink…. and there were quite a few. To be honest we had one of the best nights dissecting the letters for hidden clues about the personalities of the writers, but the green ink writers seemed to be the most troubled.

So when hubby had chosen the green ink for himself some years previously, I had valiantly tried to push him into another direction but he was not to be moved. I decided he probably was mad and it made me laugh how attached men seem to be to this particular ink colour.

I whiled away a happy couple of hours listening to Kings carols, watched the half finished Christmas tree lights flash (It is still half finished!) and the smell of the Christmas puddings steaming wafted through the house. Then hubby took them up to the main post office and off they went on their merry way.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Paperwhites

I am sure I have many but my dirty little secret is that I quite like TikTok. You never know what is going to appear and it can be as entertaining as it is educational or just a waste of time, one never knows. But one evening a lady popped up talking about the beauty of growing your own paperwhites for Christmas. I think I have left mine a week or so late, but I’ve made a mental note that I started them on the 1st of December so it will give a good marker for future years.

So I bought some bulbs and a big bag of glass pebbles, also popping into my basket another type of daffodil to try.

The rules as I understand them are one waters them and lets them grow and then after a couple of weeks when they are getting tall, to feed them a measure of gin or vodka so as to stunt their growth and that prevents them getting too leggy. Well I will tell you this, I have never shared my gin with a plant! But if they reward me with a beautiful display of flowers, I will forgive them almost anything.

All set ready to go,

As are the daffs.

Fingers crossed that they bloom.

Christmas puddings.

The Christmas puddings have been steaming gently for nearly 9 hours today, and have now had fresh greaseproof and foil applied. They look like they have been a success but the truth as they say is in the eating.

To that end there has been much discussion as to when the eating should begin. Hubby has decided that should be in about a weeks time and I agree with him. Not for my own ends of course as these puddings are purely for him, as he has strict instructions to build himself up before starting his course of radiotherapy. The grim truth is that half way through his course it is going to become very difficult to eat, which could lead to a feeding tube straight into his stomach. Other complications to consider with the amount of weight loss they are expecting is the mask will no longer fit securely which means the radiotherapy might not be going to the correct place. So we need to keep him at a good weight for as long as possible. The Christmas cake may well be started much earlier than is usual too…

We have also had to make the decision to keep Christmas very simple just us two. Not least because hubby is not going to want to feel like socialising, but also because of the risk of catching covid. Although there seems to be evidence that the new strain of covid is a little gentler than the others, it would mean that he had to miss a couple of weeks of treatment, if not more if I then caught it and the main thing with the treatment is that it must be continuous to do the most good.

It is a difficult choice, not to invite son no.1 for Christmas, but in truth he works and socialises so much that he is bound to catch it sooner or later. I socialise for a total of five hours a week with various clubs and an occasional, every few weeks, trip to the pub in an afternoon when it is dead as a dodo apart from a few of the boys who I have known forever. Hubby socialises less than that. I’ve even limited my Dad to a couple of hours a week of late. And I am worried, just very, very worried. I know this will probably go down like a lead balloon with son no.1 and I should have thought it through earlier. It is just a very difficult situation.

Anyway think of hubby eating all of his Christmas puddings won’t you. He may well finally come to a conclusion of the perpetual debate on whether it should be brandy butter, cream or ice cream or even custard!