Wilko’s seeds.

I’m probably sharing this a bit too late, but it might be worth a look. Wilko’s have reduced their seeds for vegetables and flowers down to 10p and 30p. I was very lucky to get £75.00 worth for just over a tenner. They all have very long shelf lives and I’ve just got a few vegetables that are missing for next year – along with the seed potatoes and onion sets of course.

Compton Verney – The marvellous mechanical museum.

Hubby and I had a marvellous afternoon here yesterday. I won’t bore you with all of the details as here is a link The marvellous mechanical museum.

We went away completely satisfied by our adventures, if you too enjoy the quirky humour of mechanical yet childlike things that one simply has to smile about, this may be the exhibition for you. Hurry it closes on the 30th of September.

Photography was strictly prohibited – I much prefer the view of more enlightened London museums and art galleries on this, where they understand a little free advertising is no bad thing. So I have scoured utube to show you, what I think is the most wonderful exhibit they are showing. A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley by Rowland Emett. Enjoy.Please click here.

Keeping the home fires burning.

I was brought up in a house with a coal fire for heating in the living room and a stove in the kitchen to burn coke for hot water. We had the best winters, my favourite place would be sat in the cats chair next to the stove with the kitchen lights off gazing into the red hot embers I could see through the grate. It was the cosiest spot in the house and I’d always be a little disappointed when someone walked in and flicked the kitchen light on. In the living room the coal fire roared and hissed when in full force, steam splitting the large pieces apart to reveal bright orange caves that one could imagine fairies and pixies living in.

My Nan had a coal fire and she was an expert at putting all her rubbish on it, she’d burn anything would Nan. The wet potato peelings would get thrown on making a great big hiss quickly followed by watching them curl up and burn. All manner of plastics would get thrown on which Nan when questioned if it was safe or poisonous was that ‘it’d be alright’. And she was a devil with a sheet of newspaper which she would use to draw the fire with, the amount of times the drawing of the fire would roar, she gaily laughing as it got louder and louder, us children screaming with a little fear as ‘poof’ the newspaper would catch alight and with luck fly into the fireplace. The amount of times she nearly set the living room on fire and only the quick use of a poker, prodding it back into the fire saved us all. They were magical times.

One of the reasons I bought this house was that although it was boarded up we knew it had a baxi fireplace – which is basically a fireproof hole in the ground in which one puts a metal bucket to catch the hot embers. It can take two or three days worth of ash, depending on the duration and size of fire. We looked at a new estate of houses and completely ruled them out, no chimneys on any of them – all that magic never to be experienced, all those memories never to be made.

My homefire smokeless fuel arrived yesterday, I know it looks like lumps of black coal to you,but to me it’s old magical memories and new ones to be made, it’s the promise of warmth and happy evenings, cosy dogs and happy cats, it’s laughter and contentment, reading and sock knitting, it warms old bones and soothes tired brows and eases one into a soporific state while gazing at its red hot embers. It is always the perfect end to any kind of day.

Soup and bread

I love the change in seasons, it gives one a chance to step into familiar but almost forgotten flavours. For me this time of year is a reminder of all that is good about home cooking with soups and stews returning to the table. The time spent chopping vegetables, often homegrown, the senses heightened as the onions start to fizz in hot oil, the alchemy as tomatoes breakdown and form a glorious gravy of their own. Which is then followed by steaming pots of wholesome goodness hopefully with enough left for the next day and the freezer, or enough to feed a family if they are at home.

I hope that I will always retain the imagination and excitement of the art of cookery. To lose it would be a very sad day indeed.

This soup started with an hours cooking of the chicken carcass in my instant pot pressure cooker. It’s a marvellous bit of kit and one I can’t recommend highly enough. Next I made the soup by sauté onions, peppers, carrots and bacon, popped in a lot of tomatoes, butter beans and pasta and simmered until the pasta was cooked.

The rolls are a sourdough cheddar cheese and spring onion and are absolutely delicious. I thought I’d try rolls this week instead of loaves and they are going down a storm with hubby.

Lunch, home made, what could be better than that.

Chocolate

I have finally come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I try not to I will always eat chocolate at least once a week. The truth is I’d be happier if I could eat it every day. I’ve pondered on that truism for a very long time, years in fact, knowing that I’d be happier but also knowing it probably isn’t a good idea is a difficult tightrope to tread. So I don’t buy chocolate and I don’t plan for chocolate until the Friday evening bottle of wine comes into view and then I allow myself a smallish treat, I say smallish because if it’s hubby that is doing the choosing, it will be a big box of something. Hubby can be a bit of a guzzler where anything sweet is concerned – and yet he still keeps his figure!

We popped into Birmingham last week and Hotel Chocolate came into view, so we had to pop in and buy our favourite pralines, Illegal Gianduja, they are so deep and dark and smooth. As we enjoyed the packets I bought over many days, something inside me snapped, and I realised I want to eat Good chocolate, not any of the cheaper substitutes that are often so disappointing. So I sat and ordered a boxful of our favourites.

There are a couple of other chocolatiers I want to try over the coming months, isn’t it lovely to give yourself permission sometimes. Now I’ll be able to treat myself to a little good chocolate every day.

Growing Protein

Apart from my obvious love of the growing, cooking and eating of fruits and vegetables, I also gain great satisfaction in providing protein to the kitchen. I’d love to go back to keeping chickens who gave us their lovely eggs but hubby is not so keen and I do under the work involved so the next best thing to eggs is beans!

I always grow half a row of French beans in the full knowledge that once I can no longer keep up with their vigorous production I can leave them on the plants to dry and they will miraculously turn into haricot beans, the same variety that tumbles out of a tin covered in tomato sauce. The beans after having been left to dry on the plants for a couple of months, they are just so pretty.With a few left over still needing to dry out.These will continue to dry out and then I will pop them in a jar for winter recipes. I’ll pop a few in an envelope and label it well for next years growing, then it really will be food for free, which always puts a smile on this allotment holders face.

Blackberries and Apples

Are not wild blackberry bushes the most giving of all fruits. Spend an hour picking and one often comes away with a huge bounty, leave them a day or two and the next lot of fruits ripen and one can repeat the process. The only downside is their huge thorns and the attack dogs on the allotment.

Attack dogs on the allotment, I hear you say, well yes, but in human form. I’ve been on this allotment for ten years before I went to London and then a gap of five years to return in March this year. I wander around the allotments with never a word of a challenge as to whether I should be there, but should I pick up a wicker basket and approach the blackberry bushes that are dripping in fruit, taking life and limb in hand because of the torturous nature of the ditch and the very real risk of stretching a bit too far and slipping into the ditch with a bunch of stinging nettles, I am almost immediately accosted as to which track I’m on, what number, a comment about never seeing me before and often a rude comment about how much fruit I have, with the underlying current that they are not for me. Now don’t get me wrong dear reader, I can certainly look after myself and normally make comment, well yes, but it’s a Sunday afternoon and the bushes are dripping with fruit and I’m not going to leave them to rot on the bushes.

But really is this all really necessary. If I was sniffing around sheds, looking to see what was around to sell down the pub I could understand it, but I’m a fat, bald, fifty something woman picking a bit of wild fruit. In the very real days of food poverty, where there is a food bank in nearly every town and ours was crying out for extra donations recently, would you not look at a persons activities with a keener eye before one attacks to see if they should be there. I know I would.

As children our jaunts in the countryside at this time of the year made a very great difference to our diet, blackberry along with apples that somehow my mother was always given by the bushel made a very real difference to our winter diet. Apple and blackberry pies along with crumbles and custard appeared at least three times a week until well into February, keeping us five children supplied with full tummies and abundant vitamin C. My mother was an excellent pie maker and would spend Sunday afternoons baking making six big pies for the coming week, along with a cake and jam tarts or mince pies. This skill alone probably contributes to the fact as to why my brothers are all over six foot, we all grew up big and strong. But not everyone is so lucky, maybe this is something to talk about to the next attack dog, I can feel an idea beginning to germinate.

In other news, I tried our apples and joyous news, they are so sweet and without a grub in sight! Autumn is well and truly on its way.

September is for planning.

Who didn’t love the lure of a newly bought carefully chosen pencil case, freshly sharpened pencils and a brand new rubber. September, the time for new clothes, even if they were school uniform, shiny black shoes and pencil cases stuffed into school bags.

I may no longer be a part of school life, in any capacity, our boys long since grown, but I still feel the change of season most keenly. Even the noise of the traffic changes on the day the kids go back to school, it becomes much heavier. Along with that the squeals of excited children and I know the seasons are changing.

I pray for one long last blast of heat to enjoy in relative solitude, whether that be from walking Rupert over the parks, swings still swaying from last minute games on the way to school. Or up the plot, catching up on jobs that were forgotten in the scorch of August, again perceptively quieter now the school bell has rung for the start of its academic year.

I usually return to planning myself. Who can resist coloured pens, bright washi tape and duck shaped paper clips, not I. And with planning I find calmness and should I say this, a little hygge creeps into my life and I smile and I am happy. Happy Sunday, happy September.

For the love of Hygge

September and Hygge seem bound together like autumn and fallen crispy colourful leaves. The concept of snuggling under wool blankets or hand made quilts, enjoying hand baked buns, colourful autumn walks or just being still while looking deeply into the white hot and orange embers of the first of the autumn fires. Hygge epitomises the enjoyment of leaving ones wet coat and sodden boots at the back door and indulging in the simplest pleasures of fluffy slippers, cozy jumpers and mugs of steaming hot chocolate, hopefully with the odd marshmallow or two just starting to ooze its sugary life enhancing goodness.

Now that the heat of August has gone, I feel my energy rising  and my creativity starting to return. Its a good feeling and one I have been waiting for. Two weeks ago I took lots of photos of the allotment and simply haven’t posted them. I’ve been a bit like that most of the year, reader, its me, not you. I’ve still got a lovely set of a female warbler feeding its young in the reeds, that remain unprocessed and they were taken sometime deep in the spring.

So for the month of September, I intend to post more, much more, enjoy the hygge and just let my creativity flow where it will.

So, what was the plot up to two weeks ago?

This is a Crown Prince pumpkin, they are the most delicious of pumpkins with a lovely nutty, honey flavour and deep orange smooth flesh, they really are a prince. We have managed to grow four and at the moment I am keeping my eye out for first frosts, they need to be safely gathered in long before that happens, but at the same time, the sweetness comes from being left on the plant as long as is possible. If you do come across a lovely blue pumpkin on your travels, whether that be Waitrose or your local vegetable stall, buy it, its bound to be a Crown Prince. Don’t worry about what you’re going to make with it, you’ll find many ideas later. Don’t worry how you are going to get it home, trust me, you will. And don’t worry about whether you will finish it, again, you will, you may need the aid of a freezer to store some pumpkin risotto, but  you won’t leave any to waste, they are absolutely delicious.And after that introduction, let me tell you we have many of these lovely little butternut squashes. I don’t know how many because they hide under the leaves, there will be real treasure to find. And they will store well, and will make beautiful roasts, soups, curries and risottos as well. I always think eating the bright orange flesh of pumpkins and squashes boosts me up just when the day light is at its weakest point of the year. Even with all that white mildew our courgette plants are still throwing them out at us. We are leaving a few for marrows at the moment having tried a few we had failed to capture earlier in their development. Their flesh on long slow cooking, over an hour and a half, nearly two on a low heat in the oven turns into a beautiful buttery soft flesh, it makes delightful eating. And one of my best ideas has been to stuff them with all those little bits of left over stew or curry or risotto that gets popped into the freezer, it all becomes a wonderful meal that has cost next to nothing, has taken practically no time to prepare, and tastes like I’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Its a win, win.Summer cabbages are doing well, although I suspect some will bolt before we have had chance to eat them all or had chance to give them away. They are sweet and lovely and I must dust off a few Russian cabbage recipes, they seem to be very good at using cabbages. I once stuffed a loaf with cabbage and egg, before baking. Lets say it was interesting… Other brassicas are doing well, the cauliflower as usual are fighting their tendency to bolt, but we are at least keeping up with them in the kitchen. It looks like the savoys will be good come winter, the black kale is doing well, but the flea beatle is really having a go at them this year. I am hoping they will grow a few tender leaves after the beatle infestation gets knocked back by the cold. And the brussels look well on their way for Christmas lunch. Apples are coming along, I may try them this week to see how they are getting on. Fresh apples  straight off the tree are a real treat. Our toms are doing well, lots of varieties we have tried this year we have been very pleased with. And even though I’ve  had gluts, everyone is happy to have a few tomatoes, warm from the greenhouse passed onto them and the others I have used up quite nicely in ragu’s and stews. We have our own blackberry bush, with huge thorns. The blackberries are nice enough, but its in the way of the greenhouse and there are plenty of blackberry bushes surrounding the allotments. It’s last year, say farewell. The beetroot is at long last starting to do well, it is quite delicious and we never seem to have enough boiling away to keep up with demand. And some of the parsnips have taken so we will have roast parsnips on Christmas day too. Its the small things that make me  happy. Corn on the cob is doing well, what a treat! Butter is all that is required. And I have left some of the french beans on to form haricot beans to store for home made baked beans and minestrone soups, which are just wonderful made from the outer leaves of savoy cabbages or brussel sprout tops, the last of the tomatoes from the deep freeze and lashings of parmesan with a good home made sour dough to dip into and chew the caramel crusty flavours. Soon it will be the last of the runner beans. I try to make the season last as long as is possible by starting them early, getting them out as soon as possible, balanced with the risk of not letting them get touched by any frost and planting at least two more beans per plant, while planting them for these to spring into life and take over just as they are tiring. I am still getting the odd flower, but we really won’t be getting much more. Deep sigh, it was good while it lasted. I like to take a turn around the allotments at this time of year. You’d think that all of the allotmenteers would be taking advantage of the free bounty on offer, but I often come across bushes that have been hardly touched. I love blackberrying, it takes me back to my childhood in an instant, of long afternoon walks on my Uncles farm, blackberrying with wicker baskets for the ladies, old ice cream tubs for the children, men laughing, women chatting, children and dogs running though the edges of wheat fields that were taller than them and golden ready for harvest. Perfect days, wonderful memories. Treats to take home this evening, and very nice they were too. Along with some beetroot for boiling, it never lasts long. and the tops are delicious used as spinach. Until the next time, farewell.

Reading in Heels, August 2018

I don’t know about you, but when I enter a bookshop these days, just longing to pick up a little something to indulge in, I become a little confused at all of the choice and often as not end up with another cookery/gardening/photography book to add to my collection, rather than the quick pick me up of a dreamy/funny/engaging,  piece of modern literary fiction with which to engross myself in.

I have in the past tried reading groups, which were often fully booked, meaning I didn’t get a place, or I became double booked that evening, next I contemplated a book subscription service from private book sellers in London, but became a little shocked at the price and the year long subscription and wondered if the books chosen might be a little highfaluting, when all I really want is something to immerse myself in, curl up with and enjoy.  So my desire for a helping hand to lead me through the myriad of new novelists has often been thwarted.

When Reading in Heels popped into view, Ooooh, a book subscription service, with modern fiction, for girlies, with added goodies, I may have become a little light headed at this point. I do love a subscription, I have a couple of beauty boxes and one food and they are always so much fun.  So I read a few reviews as you do, and they were all good,  I grasped the nettle and ordered my first book.  At that point I found I could order one month at a time, which is marvellous, no subscription to get tied into.  The price came to £10.00 plus p & p, which I believe was £12.40. The books cover price this month was £9.99 so I am happy enough with that.

It came this morning, so exciting, lets delve in shall we.

It was lovely packaging and I became quite giddy at this point. Did I mention it is their first birthday this month, which seemed to add to the frisson of excitement. Firstly you get a little index card to fill in and pop into your book. So cute.  And then a leaflet to tell you all about the book and what is in your box. Oooh its wrapped up in white tissue paper, the tension mounts.  So many pretty goodies. Firstly some real wine gums, with real wine! It is always nice to have a sweet treat while reading.Next a rather nice Coconut Lane marble notebook, A5, original cost £4.50 and a pencil from Night Navy on Etsy at just over £1.00  I’m always partial to a little stationary, one can never have too many notebooks. Flashpatch are new to me, I’m really looking forward to trying these, and these seem to have come in at just over £2.00 each. Just the perfect gift to oneself to relax and enjoy a little me time, while soothing gritty summer eyes. And then we have the book! I picked this up a couple of weeks ago and then put it back, not sure whether to buy it or not. I was so incredibly pleased to get it. Let me copy Reading in Heels review to give you a taster.

Long before Markle and Middleton, there was Margaret: a princess quite different from that pretty perfect protocol-ed pair. In fact, she was rather difficult. In Ma’am Darling, Craig Brown offers us ’99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret’ – and she’s nothing short of absolutely fascinating. Critically acclaimed and regularly referred to as ‘a masterpiece’ this has to be one of the funniest books we’ve read in some time. Banish any preconceptions of boring biographies stuffed with tedious dates and facts, Ma’am Darling is captivating, entertaining – and unputdownable.  #MaamDarling

Sounds absolutely perfect.

Oh and there is a digital book club to write a review and read others, along with the reviews of the last 12 books that I have missed, should I need a quick fix before next month.

thank you Reading in Heels.