Herbs

I was cooking yesterday, and as I was popping some fresh thyme into the pot, realised that growing vegetables is all well and good, but they sometimes need a helping hand in the flavour department. What they need is herbs.

I have a bay tree in a pot that I rarely use, but I get through quite a bit of thyme, basil, chives and coriander and I can’t believe that I haven’t thought about growing them. Basil and coriander won’t last through the winter, and they may even struggle with the British Summer, or lack of, but thyme should be happy all year round as will some of the more hardy herbs like chives and lemon balm.

There is something so special about fresh herbs. The taste and vibrancy that they bring to a dish is unsurpassed. I hit the internet, and pretty quickly into my shopping basket popped, lemon balm, lemon grass, thyme, basil and chives. I need to get a bucket to grow them in at the weekend.

I have never used lemon balm, but I believe that it makes a wonderful ice-cream; lemongrass is just gorgeous; chives are great with soft cheese (something I want to have a go at making but no, I am not getting a goat); basil I throw into pasta sauce or eat on a salad of mozzerella and tomatoes; thyme is fabulous with mushrooms or in the veggie cottage pie I made this afternoon; coriander goes into anything vaguely Asian.

At this rate, they yard will be full, I can’t get out there

 

Thinking Aloud.

A horrible thought struck me yesterday as I stood and admired my garlic (yes, I have become one of those people who can’t stop looking at their handiwork). Should a miracle happen, and I actually get to harvest some of the veggies I am nurturing, I need to find something to do with them.

The kholrabi and dwarf beans were planted at the weekend, so it is only the cauliflower and turnips to sow and the tomato plant to put out. I had pretty much given up on the aubergines, there was no sign of life at all, so I thought I would probably use the pot for cut and come again salad leaves.

I went out to check on everything this morning, to find that the kholrabi is already showing, there are a couple of beans and shock, horror a single aubergine is popping a tiny green shoot above the soil.

Assuming that I get crops from all my pots, I am going to be very well fed. I have been hitting the cook books, and internet for ideas. I am not the most inventive cook, so quite honestly need all the help I can get. “Cream Cheese with Beetroot stack and Beetroot salsa” sounds good to me, as does “Kohlrabi, Apple and Creamy Mustard Salad” but hopefully two recipes won’t be enough.

One thing I do know, is that I need to put in some herbs. I do have a Rosemary and a Bay Tree, neither of which I use, but some lovely thyme (great with mushrooms, cheese and beetroot) would be fabulous, and perhaps some parsley. Some more research is required I think.

Peas, Garlic and other things

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The peas are continuing to do well. In fact, they are positively thriving. It won’t be long before I have to build them a wigwam as support.

PeasThere is sign of life in the leeks – just, and the Elephant garlic is doing fabulously.

Elephant Garlic

I am going to go tomorrow to get a couple more buckets and plant the kholrabi and cauliflower, but it will be a little while before the rest of the seeds can go in. I cheated slightly and bought a tomato plant. It is starting to get a bit leggy so probably needs a bigger pot.

The weather has taken a turn cooler, and this week we have had pretty much every weather condition known to man – sun, wind, rain, sleet and in parts of the country there has been snow. It is hard to think that it is now May and summer is supposed to be around the corner.

Back soon!

Signs of Life

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In the last week, signs of life have started to appear in my veggie pots. The peas are doing particularly well, the two garlic cloves are pushing their greenery above the soil and the beetroot is starting to appear.

I find this rather exciting. I am not known for the abilty to grow things, and to have got this far is a bit of a miracle. There are some other seeds I need to pop in, but have not had chance to, but will in the next couple of weeks.

My main problem, is keeping the cats out of the pots. For reasons I really do not understand they love to curl up in a plant pot and I am trying to work out how to stop this ….

IMG_1750I am so tempted to water it an see what happens!

Planting

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Just a brief update.

I have planted Aubergines, Peas and today popped in Elephant Garlic. Yesterday, I bought some Baby Beetroot and Cauliflower seeds both of which I chose as they are suitable for small spaces. I need to buy some more buckets tomorrow and plant the Turnips and Leeks.

I can’t wait to see the seedlings start to pop through the soil. I have a horrible feeling that I may be obsessive about watching them, and as I have absolutely no patience it is going to be murder to wait until I can harvest something.

Patio Gardening

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If you have a good memory, you may recall that quite some time ago, I announced my decision to try growing vegetables in a raised vegetable planter. For various reasons, life being one of them, nothing happened.

Fast forward, and I have finally put the plan into action. A few days ago I order some organic vegetable seeds: Aubergine, Leek, Pea, Dwarf Bean, Kohl Rabi (my favourite), Turnip and Tomato – and they arrived yesterday.  This morning, I bought some large buckets and compost and have made a start.bucketA bucket may seem like an odd thing to choose to plant into , but they are large and incredibly strong and I should be able to move them about if I need more or less sunshine hitting the vegetables.

I used a corkscrew to make holes in the base to allow for drainage, then filled the bucket with multi-purpose compost, popped in some seeds and watered. The first seeds to be planted were the Aubergine, and I think I may be taking a risk with these. They are suitable for growing in a covered, unheated environment and I am trying to grow these outside, but then the whole thing is an experiment, so why not?

I am not the most green fingered person in the world, but I come from a gardening and vegetable growing family, so I am hoping that some of that has rubbed off. I am going to take the tomato seeds to Mum’s and start them off in her greenhouse, but the Leeks, Turnips, Peas need to go in about now. Then in April I will put in the Kohl Rabi and in  May I will sew the Beans.

I am quite excited about the experiment (is that sad), and I would be happy to get something to harvest, if not be able to feed myself from the garden.

Pass me the Coathanger

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BridgeI have to admit to ambivalence. I would never have considered what we were about to attempt and have always had a bit of a thing about heights, yet here we were suited and booted and ready to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I was in Australia as an incredibly generous birthday present from my friend’s husband. Carol and I started writing to each other when we were 13 through an international pen pal scheme organised by our schools, and we have just celebrated one of those annoying birthdays that end with a zero. This trip, without her knowledge, had been 12 months in the planning.

While we were out to dinner, Carol’s husband broke the news that the climb had been booked for us as a “treat”. He said that I changed colour!

I tried not to think much about it beforehand, it was booked and that was that. I had no nerves on the day of the climb and my major concern was whether it would be too strenuous (I am not the fittest person around) but I need not have worried.

The day dawned bright with a threat of showers. It was warm, but not too hot, and we had been booked to climb at twilight. We arrived at the climb centre, completed the short medical questionnaire, and then changed into not so natty jumpsuits before getting the rest of our kit and receiving some instruction.

Off we set. The first, and most difficult, challenges the four completely vertical ladders that delight in cracking your kneecaps. Once you have worked your way up them it is a walk up an arching stairway to the summit.

We stopped a couple of times on route, partly to admire the view and partly to give the group ahead time to celebrate reaching the top. As the sun began to disappear setting the sky on fire as it did so, a full moon became visible in the near cloudless sky and a cruise ship, guided by pilot boats, left its berth to head out to sea.

Down below, in the streets of Sydney, people were charging about like headless chickens, the constant streams of traffic, people on foot all heading home after a day at work, or out shopping. On top of the bridge there was a stillness, a peace, respite from the noise and the people, the stresses of day-to-day life.

To climb at twilight was perfect. The heat of the day had dissipated. We had a period of daylight, a period of darkness and that magical time in between.

All too soon, we had the descent to tackle, and we headed through the failing light towards the city.

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was an experience I will always remember. It is one of those experiences that you don’t expect to mean much but which unexpectedly turn out to be something delightful and life affirming.

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If I ever get back to Sydney, there is no doubt I will make the climb again.

Winter Warmers

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Winter is almost upon us. It is pretty much dark by 4.30pm and there is a nip in the air. We are usually lucky here and avoid too much in the way of frost, temperatures kept “warm” by the waters of the Irish Sea, but what we do get is an icy wind whipping in from the sea.

It has been an unusually mild Autumn, but now I am starting to think of hearty, warming casseroles or chilli or things with lots of melted cheese. There is something immensely comforting about toasted cheese, even if it is just on nachos or toasted bread. Then again, I have always been a bit of a cheese addict whether it is a good strong cheddar; soft creamy mozzarella melted into a tin of chopped tomatoes with some basil to make a lovely sauce for pasta; or chargrilled pitta bread stuffed with brie, I just can’t get enough of the stuff.

When I think about it dairy in general is comfort food. Am I the only one who enjoyed milk puddings at school. I have never lost my love of tapioca or semolina pudding and my Mum makes a mean rice pudding (although I have never mastered the art). A dollop of cream can make a very ordinary cake into a lovely pudding, or a large spoonful of whipped cream on the top of a large mug of hot chocolate with a sprinkle of grated chocolate on is divine and I can’t eat a bowl of porridge without cream.

At the moment, I am searching for tasty, savoury food, so tomorrow I will make something with a Mexican leaning, although I am not sure what. Whatever it is, will be loaded with coriander, cumin and chilli and perhaps peppers and sweetcorn for colour and whatever vegetables I decide to throw in plus beans. There will be a sprinking of cheese and  I may just follow up with some chocolate cake (with cream of course).

 

A Hundred Years On

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One hundred years ago today, life for many people around the world changed forever. Britain declared war on Germany and entered what was said to be “the war to end all wars.” World War I.

It is hard to think that my Grandfather waded through the mud of the trenches, gun in hand, dressed in the uniform of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, sent over the top to kill or be killed.

He was a quiet, gentle man who, I am told, did not talk about his war-time experiences, yet there are family stories, that perhaps he was a sniper.  I was told that he saved the life of a young German soldier who had made his way through No Man’s Land to the British trenches, to be threatened with death by a comrade of Grandfathers who apparently stopped the British soldier shooting.

On 10th October 1918 my Grandfather was wounded and sent home to recuperate in Yorkshire. He was one of the lucky ones. Over 18 million men were killed in action on both sides of the war. They were killed during a war of such unimaginable horror. The mud, the corpses, the noise, the fear, the sounds and smells that the young men faced on a daily basis. They were not career soldiers, but men who felt it was their duty, and in many cases to volunteered, to go to the front to fight the enemy. They had a patriotism lost on later generations. Many saw it as a big adventure, but the excitement they must have felt boarding the trains would soon be dispelled by the reality of what they would face.

William Owen Jones, my Great-Grandmother’s brother, joined the South Wales Borderer’s. On 16th December 1917 he was killed in action in Belgium and was laid to rest in Artillery Wood Cemetery. He was 33 years of age. A life cut short, promise unfulfilled. He, like many other men from around what is now the Commonwealth, died for the freedom of this country, and their sacrifice should never be forgotten.

 

I’m a Cataholic

I am a cataholic.

Yes, I admit it, I am completely addicted to animals of the feline persuasion. I have a house full and my vet calls me “the mad cat woman”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. I have a dog. I grew up with dogs, and as a small child if anything was bothering me, I told the dogs. Not that they were any use. Part way through unburdening myself, I would get a look that said, “Alright, enough where’s the biscuit?”

The quirks and idiosyncrasies of cats, keep me on my toes. They tear through the house like little tornados, scattering things as they go, usually with a thud and occasionally with a crash and the accompanying shower of glass shards. They disrupt my work. I can be beavering away at my computer until (depending on whether I am using the desktop or laptop) a head blocks my view of the screen, or a bottom parks itself firmly on the keyboard.

Heaven help any plants I bring into the house. Within a couple of days, any shiny green leaves have been munched, and I am left with a few bare stems. Do they touch the herbs that I put on the kitchen windowsill specifically for them to eat? No. Why should they when they can destroy my houseplants?

I saw a fridge magnet that said, “When you call a dog, it comes running. When you call a cat, it takes a message and gets back to you.” Nothing can be closer to the truth. Cats are the hedonists of the animal world. They have never forgotten their status as gods in Ancient Egypt and live to be waited on. They insist on the warmest, most comfortable spot in the house. My cats allow to me to warm the sofa before requesting, ever so nicely, that I move so that they can make themselves comfortable.

I have one little darling who likes to sleep on my pillow. She sits on my face if I don’t move my head so she can curl up in the warm hollow, with her bottom wedged firmly into my shoulder. I have lost count of the number of times I have woken in the morning to find that I am clinging to the edge of the bed, while the cats are stretched out all over it. I did not realise that such small animals could take up so much space!

I have had cats now for twelve years, and I am still not quite fluent in cat. I am constantly surprised by their approach to life, and how they manage to wrap me around their small paws. I would like to think that I am mistress in my own house, but I am deluding myself. These beautiful little creatures know how to get what they want almost without me realising what they are doing.

So, who are the little beasties who have so easily turned my life so firmly around? First in terms of nuisance factor is Lily. She is heads above the others when it comes to disruption, knocking things over and the general troll factor. It is Lily who sits, with little cogs turning, looking for things to get up to. She is a bright little creature, and she quickly works out by looking at the other cats, which buttons to push, and then delights in pushing them. This, quite naturally, leads to a great deal of hissing and looks that would curdle milk from her “siblings”.

Her sister Mia is as different as you can get. They are littermates but the only thing they have in common is that they are both black and white. Where Lily looks for things that are going to get her into trouble, Mia is content to curl up on my knee (usually when I am just about to get up for something).

The only boy in the house is Fidget, a naughty ginger tom. He is a complete mummy’s boy. He has a voice which could shatter glass and he is not afraid to use it.

Then there is Echo, my lovely, little tabby cat, and Fidget’s sister. She is frightened of everything and so quiet that you do not know she is in the house.

Finally, there is Willow. I met Willow at a foster home where she had been taken from the local rescue centre, as she was pregnant. She had three lovely, lively little kittens, but it was three-legged Willow who I fell in love with. The disruption her arrival caused seven months ago is ongoing. Lily decided that this new arrival was perfect for being mean to. Unfortunately, Willow is yet to work out that running is the worse thing she could do, and to Lily it is a great game. Willow is not so keen on being pounced on, and retaliates and a full-scale catfight ensues.

There you have my feline family. Five completely different furry babies with personalities as big as houses. Life is never dull, and I no longer get a lie-in but I would not change a thing.

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