Hello Stranger!…and Lemon Meringue Ice Cream

Here I am, trying to ignore the elephant in the room again (ie the not blogging).  Honestly, I write blog posts all the time in my head, I just forget to actually, properly write them….and to take photos.  Oh well.IMG_20150701_112936The garden is ticking along nicely, although it’s wilting in the high temperatures we’ve been getting here in the South.

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I was lucky enough to be taken to Hampton Court Flower Show last week.  I’d love to write lots of fabulous things about it but the honest truth was we spent most of the day complaining, like true Brits, about how hot it was. We rushed through the Country Living tent, stopped briefly at the roses (the only photos I took, and on my phone), dashed (or in our case, slowly dragged our sweating bodies – nice!) past the show gardens before relaxing in the Allium Restaurant with its air conditioning for lunch, and attempting not to stare at the poor lady who had collapsed in the heat, and was being attended to by St Johns Ambulance.IMG_20150701_113010We then stepped back outside into tropical temperatures, decided we were too Northern in blood to cope and went home.IMG_20150701_113014I did buy gin though and some AMAZING pies from Simple Simon’s Perfect Pies that were the best pies ever.DSC_0158In the garden the fruit is ready to go.  I managed to steal some of the cherries from the birds and mice for the first time in years, they could have done with a few days longer, but I know the pesky pigeons will strip them in an afternoon, just as I’m about to pick them, as that always happens and I decided not to wait.  The variety is Lapins and I planted the tree when we moved here after also planting the same variety in our old garden and being amazed be the fruit flavour.IMG_20150703_143131

There are alpine strawberries, pink gooseberries, blackcurrants and soon the redcurrants will be ready.  In the veg patch I have lettuce, spring onions, peas, spinach, chard, radish, courgettes, beetroot and I’m sure lots more that I can’t remember right now.

Although I don’t have any photos to pretty this up, I have discovered the most amazing recipe for ice cream and wanted to share.  It came about as I had a jar of lemon curd as a freebie and I wanted to use it up as it’s been in the store cupboard for months.  The recipe is pulled from a number I found on-line and merged together to work for me and what I had in at the time.  I usually make a custard base for my ice cream but I enjoyed this method and taste so much, I’m going to adapt my usual Blackcurrant Ripple to something similar.

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream

1 jar of lemon curd (approx 320g)

500ml – 600ml double cream (the cartons come in 600ml here, so I used the entire thing)

200ml (ish) natural yohurt

3 tablespoons honey

1 lemon (juice and zest)

meringues…..sorry, no exact amount.  I bought a shop made box of 8 nests and used 4 per batch of ice cream

Method

It’s all a bit taste as you go along and alter, but I found that the exact amounts didn’t matter too much (ie I think I might have used more like 250ml yoghurt as my cartons come in 125 each).

Pop your ice cream maker in the freezer as per its instructions (mine needs to go in the day before).

Whip the cream.  Fold in the yoghurt, just over half of the lemon curd and then add the lemon zest and honey.  Taste and add the lemon juice and check it tastes nice (add more honey or extra lemon juice, if you like).

Gently pour into your ice cream maker.  Once it’s nearly ready, tip in your gently broken up meringues or fold them in by hand just before putting your ice cream into a freezer container.

As my ice cream maker produces quite a sloppy mix, I pop it in the freezer at this point and then once it’s stiffened up a bit, I swirl through the rest of the lemon curd.  If I add it when it’s too soft, it just sinks to the bottom of the container.  There is always the chance I forget this last stage, then you don’t get those delicious swirls of sherbety lemon curd running though the ice cream, which is a bit of a bummer..

The boys have declared this the best ice cream yet so that says it all!

I’m off to visit Hever Castle today so no doubt it’ll rain all day for the first time in weeks.  Still, I’m really looking forward to a day chatting with friends and imagining Anne Boleyn strutting her stuff in the rooms.

Busy, busy, busy…

It’s April, and as happens every year, my kitchen has been turned into a giant greenhouse as I get as many seeds as possible started in this busy month.  I’ve been really good this year and have spent most of the Easter holidays so far working on the garden.  I wasn’t sure about doing more than just maintaining things as there is still a question mark over if I’ll need to sell or not, but in the end I figured I’d go for it and plant both vegetables and cut flowers and at least I can hand over a full garden to the new owners, should it come to that.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 08.46.57 Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 08.46.20 Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 08.45.58I ordered some new flower seeds from Thompson & Morgan (as above) and these have all been started in a giant seed tray made from a plastic tray intended to put a large grow bag on, which I’ve filled with small seed cell trays.

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DSC_0137It was born out of necessity, after I ended up at a standard DIY store instead of my usual independent garden shop (which was closed) and there wasn’t a lot of choice, but it works really well.  Once the seedlings are established I’ll move the tray into the greenhouse so the plants get even light and don’t become too leggy.  I’ve also planted up lots of the seeds I collected from last year, mainly things like Nigella and Calendula.

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In the garden the spring bulbs have returned in all the borders, but with a little less enthusiasm, the exception being narcissi which come back year after year.

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My trough, that sits on the drive is looking promising, but sadly, the two small raised beds in the veg patch that were full of spring plants last year have produced nothing :( it would appear the various pests I suffer with in the garden have eaten all the dormant bulbs.

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On which note, I am determined to get on top of the rabbit situation and have spent quite a bit of time trying to block any remaining entry points, often by inventive means.  My methods are by no means perfect and not always pretty, but I’m determined to eventually keep the little furry critters out.  Sadly, this wasn’t done in time to stop them munching many of the nice new plant shoots that emerged early last month so a lot of the damage is already done.  Must get on with cleaning my decking as well, I have swept it a number of times over but it needs power hosing down to get it really clean.

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Indoors, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of making mineral bone broths, you can google a zillion methods so I wont bore you with those, but basically it involves slow boiling your left over meat bones (often browned in the oven beforehand, especially if you’re using beef bones) with any vegetables, herbs etc that need using up, for hours and hours and hours.  You add a splash of vinegar to cold bones before cooking the broth to help bring the minerals out.  It’s pretty much the same process I’ve always done for making chicken stock, expect I now really do throw every vegetable peeling or limp carrot from the back of the fridge into the pot and I boil it a lot longer, until the bones start to break down.  I’ve mostly then been using the stock to then make batches of chicken soup for F as he loves it and in theory it ‘might’ help his broken arm heal quicker.

To add to my vegetable list from last month, I’ve added:

Sweetcorn ‘Conqueror’

Climbing BeanBlauhilde’

Indoors and in the greenhouse, in gutters:

Peas

Salad

Direct (under cloches) I’ve sown:

Spring Onions

Radish

Beetroot

Turnip ‘Snowball’

I hope to get broccoli, kale, and all the squash on the go in coming weeks.

Right, I’m off to give everything a water, it’s amazing how quickly things dry out in the greenhouse if they aren’t carefully monitored.

2015 Vegetable Planting Lists…

So, apparently I post once every two months, which is a bit embarrassing really.  I don’t know what happened…..well, I do, life just got in the way and the very least of my worries has been gardening or writing blog posts, but it’s gone on like this for rather a long time, so I need to fix it.

This year I’m on a determined mission to use up all my old seed, not least because I have no money to buy new, so I’m afraid the list is rather boring.

FEBRUARY

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Chilli (I’m only growing a couple of plants because they look pretty, so I’m using last years seed that came from a restaurant free with the bill, no idea of the variety)

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

Broad Bead Crimson Flowered

MARCH

Spinach Bordeaux

Cucumbers Burpless Tasty Green

Courgettes Black Forest & Zephyr

Melon Outdoor Wonder

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell

Kohl Rabi F1 Hybrid

Peas Whatever I’ve got left that the pesky mice don’t steal

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint

APRIL

Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Beetroot Pablo & Bolthardy

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red

Pak Choi Mei Qing Choi & Rubi

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Yellowstone, Rainbow Hybrid, Purple Haze, Healthmaster & Sugarsnax

Turnip Sweetball & Snowball

Lettuce Various varieties

Herbs Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Winter Savory and many more…

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Gem/Rolet, Queensland Blue, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1

AUGUST &  SEPTEMBER

Pak Choi Tatsoi

Fennel Romanesco

Spinach Perpetual (Leaf Beat)

Purslane

ANYTIME

Kale Cavolo Nero & Red Russian

Herbs Parcel, Cress (Bubbles)

Having just done a proper couple of hours tidying in the garden for the first time this year, I see that garlic is already on the go, as it wild garlic, alpine strawberries, horse-radish root, spinach and some rather sad-looking winter vegetables such as chard and turnips.  Other garden news is that the rabbit and mice problem has really become very bad, I’m rather devastated to see the damage the rabbits have done to all the spring flowers, few have survived with their tops intact.

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On a plus note, and trying to bat the laptop screen every time I type, are these two lovelies that we were allowed to bring home from the RSPCA.  They are called Tuppence and Birdie and we’re very happy to have them, I’m hoping they will take over where my last lovely cat left off in keeping the mice and rabbits to a manageable level…..perhaps I should be training them ready for when they are allowed outdoors, although they already stare longingly at the rabbits on the other side of the glass doors.

I’m off to buy soil and get all the February list going, I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a very good year :)

Winter is Here!

Clearly.  There has even been scraping of the car window screen in the mornings and on a couple of days, the frost has still been on the grass as evening has arrived.

DSC_0148Brrrrr, time to cook Boston Beans with the remaining barlottis that were hastily brought indoors from the greenhouse, where I’d left them to dry out, still attached to the vines.  I’m lucky the mice didn’t get them.  I always make beans as it’s such a nice staple tea to have in the freezer, neither of the boys will touch them so it’s just for me.  I use this HFW recipe, only I add some tomato puree and I cook the belly pork separately, so all the fat doesn’t end up in the beans, I know the fat is very flavoursome but I can’t face the calories.  When I freeze it, I spoon the beans into a container then place a few chunks of cooked pork on top, to reheat it I make sure the belly pork is still hovering on the beans, that way it ends up nice and crispy – yum!  I’d show a photo, but the truth is it looks a bit like brown mush, tastes heavenly though!

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The garden is now dormant for the winter.  I tried (quite half heartedly, if I’m honest) to make sure it was tidied and ready to plant up, come spring.  I finally got the garlic in.  I ordered a small variety box this year, just for the change, but still from The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, it’s been a while since I tried elephant garlic (which isn’t really garlic at all but a variant of leek, I believe) so I’m excited to see if it grows (I struggled last time).  I haven’t ordered potatoes or shallots yet, they’d normally have been paid for by now, ready to arrive in the New Year, but I’m unsure about my plans to grow either this time.

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Indoors we are getting ready for Christmas.  The boys have their fabulous sock advent calendar (from Germany) and I decided to re-use my Betty’s one, bought a couple of years ago, but filled with my favourite Lindt truffles.

DSC_0151 The cake has been given a layer of marzipan and icing, then finished with some cute vintage style decorations from Cox and Cox.

DSC_0154Since this photo was taken, half the cake has been eaten!  I’d rather it’s that way then it sits there for weeks, possibly months on end and everyone looses their Christmas sweet tooth and it gets abandoned.  My verdict on trying Delia’s Creole Christmas Cake?  Good decision, I LOVE it and will be cooking it going forwards…until I get bored and fancy a change, that is.

I have more to write about but I just want to get into the habit of posting again, so for now I’ll leave it here :)

Winter is Coming…

I realise that I’ve been absent for ages now, if you read my other blog you’ll know life has rather been getting in the way, but it’s all nicely settled down and I hope to get back to regular blogging.DSC_0192 The garden has pretty much ground to a halt.  There are a few splashes of colour hanging on,DSC_0194 the zinnia sprite is still going strong in the cutting patch, as are the cosmos and some marigolds.DSC_0188 The borders are looking less pretty, but I was totally thrilled to see the Japanese anemone that I planted last year has taken, I did have my fingers crossed when I saw a few shoots earlier in the season, but I’m so pleased to have at least one bright spot amongst the green and browns.

DSC_0187 I’ve managed to keep up with the lawn, sadly since I took this photo (I’d just trimmed the hedges of the vegetable patch, which are finally filling out) it has got a bit out of control, but too late now as it’s far too wet for any more mowing.DSC_0176 With the promised cooling of the weather, I brought the remaining chillies and red pepper plants indoors to rippen. The greenhouse is still full of tomato plants which appear to be hanging on in there!!  One frost and they will sadly be gone.DSC_0179 The squash were also brought indoors, the gem/rolet need eating soon, but the others are scattered around the house looking pretty for Halloween before they get added to a Sunday roast.DSC_0181Indoors, I felt like cooking, so I cracked on with Christmas cake.  I can now cook cake with alcohol again, I did try one year without but it was dry and didn’t keep very well, perhaps it was the wrong the recipe I opted for….anyhow I’m going for it this year and I’ve made Delia Smith’s Creole Christmas Cake, the above bottles were required for the pre-soaking!!!  I’ve made it, as I always do, in October so I can ‘feed’ the cake over the coming weeks with a little more liquor, no idea which of the above I should use so I’ll have to read up for advice there.DSC_0028 It got me thinking that I never did post about some of the Christmas gifts I bought last year.  I had a kind of food and drink theme going on, I was trying to source drinks made in Britain.DSC_0032 There was Chase potato Vodka, Edinburgh Raspberry Gin (which I was told was very nice) and my favourite, King’s Ginger.DSC_0033 The Cherry Brandy (which is partly what had started the idea as I’d had a chat with my Brother about our getting a glass of Cherry Brandy at Christmas when we were older teenagers) came from SLOEMotion in Yorkshire, I even bought a bottle for myself and the Sloe Port and Truffles from the same, were given to my Sister.DSC_0035I bought some fun skull shot glasses to go with it all.  I was quite pleased, as I find it hard to buy for the men of the family, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a basket each of British bottles.

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As I had all the fruit out, I figured I may as well make the pudding (using my Gran’s recipe, as always) and some Mincemeat (the Delia version).  I can feel my fingers twitching to keep going but I’m not eating flour at the moment and ideally no sugar, so most regular baking is out.  Annoyingly, there is a Sticky Parkin recipe in this month’s Country Living that I’m not sure I can resist, so that might be my one baking treat this month.  As for the garden, it’s not in bad shape, I did get out there and do a quite tidy the other day and since then it’s mostly rained.  I’m not sure where we will be living next year, which puts a dampener on my usual joy of planning, but I think I’ll still browse seed catalogues and get some lists together and for now there are a few crops still in the ground (chard, kale, beetroot and spinach) so I’ll try not to abandon those as I often do when the weather turns.

Hopefully, it wont be such a long gap before my next post!!

Sweetcorn…

We have just eaten the first of the sweetcorn from the garden.  I waited, patiently, for the silks to turn totally brown before picking the first ears, although I couldn’t resist the odd nail into kernel test (you’re looking for a milky liquid to squirt out, if it’s clear they aren’t ready yet) but I know from my impatient past that if I do the nail test too often, it make’s it easier for the earwigs to move in and I do not like earwigs.DSC_0186 I planted the variety Lapwing this April, starting them indoors for planting out after the last frosts.  Only 10 of the plants survived a rabbit attack and instead of the usual 4 per row in my raised beds, I crammed them together in 2 rows of 5.  As this is quite a small area for wind pollination to take place, I gently stroked the top pollen onto the silks each time I passed the plant and in doing so (I like to think!) that I made sure there were no missing kernels (each individual silk has to be pollinated in order to form a kernel, hence the idea that you need to plant in large blocks, ideally 4 x 4 minimum).DSC_0189

If there’s one crop I will always make room for it’s corn, the taste is so amazingly delicious, so much better than anything you could buy.  I’ve mentioned in the past how even my oldest, Felix, will eat a fresh cob of corn and one of his worst nightmare vegetables is frozen or tinned sweetcorn.  As we’re away on and off over the next week or so, I decide to freeze the remaining cobs so they don’t go past their best.  I simply didn’t have time to blanch them and one recommendation I found is to leave a couple of leaves in place and freeze the corn raw, so this is what I’ve done.  I’ll be interested to see how they taste once cooked directly from the freezer.

That’s all :)

Tomatoes, potatoes and ‘TomTato’…!

We ate things from the garden this weekend, which kind of makes it all feel worthwhile.

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Last night I made pizza, using the first of the tomatoes.  It seems a shame to be roasting and pureeing home grown tomatoes, I feel as though they should be eaten raw, maybe in a salad, but the sad truth is I don’t do raw tomatoes, it’s the only thing I don’t eat and F is the same. DSC_0193Luckily, my youngest LOVES all vegetables so he has been snacking on the little cherry toms – Ildi – which I think deserves a place on my yearly list, as they are cropping beautifully with huge clusters of tiny fruit.  The Brandywine above were roasted as they were a little damaged underneath, where the weight (they are MASSIVE) had pushed into the edge of the bench where I’d propped them to mature, but C is looking forward to eating some sliced in his vegi-burger bap, at a later date.

DSC_0195There’s the first of the plums (San Marzano), these are also cropping well, in fact this year is looking good for tomatoes in general.

DSC_0198 Which brings me to a TomTato update.  As per this earlier post, the TomTato is a tomato plant grafted into a potato, so I should get a crop of both.  The plant was quite expensive so I’ve been looking after it with regular feeds and it’s been growing happily outside, in one of my large pots.

DSC_0201The potatoes are showing their first flowers

DSC_0204and I was excited to see the cherry tomatoes colouring beautifully, almost like the Thompson & Morgan promo photo below…..

8830534975518almost!

DSC_0205My other large potato pot, full of Lady Christl has given us its first meal, I grubbed about and managed to pull out a few tubers for our lunch and they were delicious, eaten with a little butter and salt.  It’s a new variety for me, I nearly always grow Charlottes but these are equally lovely.

The broad beans are nearly over, they are getting a little large now, today’s were blanched and then the skins removed and the beans added to a feta and pea salad.  C had a courgette (zephyr), also from the garden added to his frittata for lunch (the rest of us eat meat, so we had Jerk chicken), so all in all it was a good day for eating garden produce.  If I’d been better organised we’d have also pulled some carrots and the sweet corn is almost ready, but ideally needs a few more days.

Off the water and feed the greenhouse now, and enjoy the last few days of sun, before the rain arrives :)