The Foster Family Zoo

As I’ve just spent the last hour sitting at the kitchen table, drinking peppermint tea and staring into the garden, I thought I should actually do something instead and finally writing a blog posts didn’t seem like a bad idea.  In an attempt to ‘catch-up’, I looked through my photos since I last wrote and most were of animals.  It would appear that we do now reside in a Zoo, which is fitting when you also have two small boys.

Back in August, we added to the two already rescued cats (from the local RSPCA) with an old boy from Battersea, Brands Hatch, called Buster.DSC_0196.jpgHe was lovely.  I say, was, as sadly we had to have him put down a few weeks ago.  He came to use with a rather John Wayne style walk, which turned out to be one fused hip and the ‘worst case of arthritis’ the vets had ever seen in a cat.  He had a successful hip operation but a routine check up afterwards revealed him to be FIV+ and bluntly, he went down hill rather quickly with anemia and had to be put to sleep.  I miss him.  He was fantastically grumpy (I like grumpy cats) but at the same time my sofa companion, as he rarely left it, and he made a cute ‘priiit’ sound when you ticked his ears.DSC_0147To add to the animal drama, Tuppence broke her leg just before Christmas.  She’s recovered well, right now she’s running around the garden like a loon, which I hope the vet doesn’t find out about as she’s supposed to be house bound, but she just made a Houdini like escape when I opened the door to collect a parcel.  Her fur is now growing back and she looks less like she’s had a chicken leg grafted on.MouseWe still get ‘little gifts’ on a regular basis from the remaining cat that is allowed out (crazy cat lady – me? – noooooo).  I manage to rescue quite a few, which seems rather stupid when I spend most of my summer cursing the mice for eating the contents of my vegetable patch.DSC_0185We have hens now, which I think I did mention last year…I need to take some decent photos of the set-up and the hens themselves…I have tried, but they always seem to move just as I press the button.  We did have two Ginger Rangers, but alas, Mabel (above) got eaten last weekend by a fox.  We got to watch it over and over as there is a camera on that part of the garden.  It was quick but I felt bad about my relaxed free ranging style as I do know there are foxes around here, but then I haven’t seen one in the garden for months, and they usually leave their little calling cards around when they do come in.  Luckily, Doris (the other hen) survived and has now been joined by Beryl and Edna.  Nothing like a good old fashioned and totally obvious hen name.PhesantAs it’s shooing season, there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment too, and they are quite nosey, I’ve noticed, often coming right up to the glass of our kitchen window to have a good look it.  I do think Pheasants are rather handsome.DSC_0003The house is full of ladybirds.  We always have lots, I’m not sure if it’s linked, but in the early days here I did buy a few batches of ladybird larvae to keep the aphids under control.  They do this thing when we get late warm days in late autumn or in early spring where they come out of hibernation and swarm all over the house, I did try to capture it (as above) one year, but it’s hard to see just how many there are and how they are flying all over the place as well as crawling on the house walls.  LadybirdsIn winter, I find them asleep in all corners of the house, the ones above were in the shell of the hen house when I recently moved it, there were some very happy spiders hanging out near by, clearly contented with their winter food larder well stocked, so I moved the Ladybirds into a bug house we have in the vegetable garden (partly as I wanted to scrub the henhouse down before putting the new hens in but also because I’m soft and the idea that they are happily sleeping away, all snuggled up together only to be picked off one by one by a spider makes me sad.  I know, I need help).DSC_0166Even my sewing work seems to be dominated by animals.  I’ve been sewing quite a few blinds in animal prints – this Mark Hearld, Harvest Hare print from St Judes was lovely to work with.DSC_0144And my Shop sewing is all rabbits,DSC_0149and swallows (not to mention mice, little hanging robins, deer and many others….it didn’t occur to me just how much of my work involves animal images until writing this post!).DSC_0139There were animals (and quite a lot of gin) finding their way into Christmas gifts this year too.  I was a bit rubbish and only took the above photo, sorry.  Weirdly, having given quite a lot of gin, I received a fair bit too, not that I’m complaining, I do like a nice bottle of gin.DSC_0153The weekend has finally arrived, here in the Foster Zoo, and I think it’s time to get the seed boxes out and start planning,. I’m moving more towards low maintenance plants in the garden, ideally annuals (the above were an add on offer from Thompson & Morgan that I planted up in pots in the greenhouse last autumn, no idea of they are still alive!) and even in the vegetable patch I’m going to keep it simple.  I have very little free time these days, but I really need to keep in top of things, so keeping it simple and tidy is the way to go :)

Late Summer Garden…

This year started so well, I don’t think I’ve ever been so prepared with the raised beds or kept the grass so well ordered (thanks to the earlier moss killing and scarifying sessions), but what started well has all slipped down hill rather swiftly as time has gone by.

DSC_0160For the first year ever, I’ve hardly used any of the berries.  The blackcurrants and gooseberries both went to the birds.  The cherries, though, were eaten by us, as where the alpine strawberries.  The apples, which I’ve managed to grow in decent amounts for the first time ever on my family apple tree have mostly dropped off, just as I thought to go pick them, are now laying bruised and rotting on the grass.  On the plus side, I did manage to pick the redcurrants and hand them out to friends, they were too glorious to waste.

DSC_0162I’m amazed (as I always am) at how quickly the weeds take over if neglected for even a short time.  We were lucky to get a few days on Yorkshire, a couple of weeks ago, during which time there was some much needed rain down here in the south and when I finally went into the garden to do a tidy up last week, I couldn’t believe how many weeds had taken hold.  I’ve resigned myself to just trying to keep on top of things by pulling any heads off before they flower and removing the stems when I have more time.  I’ve done the same with anything I don’t want to self seed next year, such as the poppies.  I’m happy for them to grow, as they are lovely, but I’ll make a point of scattering the seeds in places I want them permanently to be, instead of their growing like crazy all over the place.
The biggest success of this year has been growing the flowers for cutting in and around the vegetables (instead of in separate raised beds).  This was mostly down to my not making a plan and just planting up seedlings as and when they were ready in whichever spot was free, but it’s kept all the beds ‘interesting’ to look at, over a longer period. 
Of the new flower seeds I planted, the Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mix‘ has been the greatest success, I’ve always struggled to germinate Rudbeckia in the past, I have no idea why, but this year they went well and their lovely bright pop of colour is very welcome at this time of year, I’m pretty sure I’ll be growing these next year to be put into the main border to add some colour late in the season.  We’ve had sunflowers, marigolds, nigella, snapgragons to name a few others, all grown in rows amongst the vegetables.


The end of the garden, where the veg patch is has generally been well used this year.  I added two hammocks to the decking area and it’s really pleasant to sit there and look back at the house through the planting.  I had to buy two hammocks to stop the boys arguing over who can sit where, when!!
DSC_0160 (1)

I’ve concentrated on keeping the decking clean and leaf free this year, another first.  I hope that if I keep clearing it regularly, we wont get a build up of slimy leaves  and that lovely green slippery surface that comes with them.  The birds make a bit of a mess too, from one of the trees they like to sit in so I’ve kept that area regularly scrubbed down.  The table and seating was power hosed down at the beginning of the year and I’ve slowly worked through getting a good coat of oil on it all.

We’ve had a lot of BBQ’sDSC_0165

whilst listening to old records on my portable player…the boys quite like the old rock and roll ones but were less impressed by my Nik Kershaw tracks.

petersham3 I was lucky to be taken to lunch at Petersham Nurseries last week, by my Sister.RadishIt was heavenly, the food was fresh, tasty and amazing.  We both had grouse for our main course, served very simply with chard, sweetcorn and new potatoes and I have to say, it was the best tasting grouse dish I have ever had, cooked to perfection and just delicious….I would show you a photo but I was too busy enjoying eating and looking at the equally lovely surroundings, besides, I do feel a bit of a prat photographing my food (I did take a single photo of the radish nibbles though, but not until after we’d eaten half!!).Petersham FlowersThe visit made me want to grow dahlias again, I’ve had a bit of a break from them here, but it was the main flower used for arrangements and on show in the garden when we visited.

paradise barsBack at home, I can’t help but notice the interest in healthy eating recipe books at the moment.  I think it’s partly to do with my age and the age of my friends, we’re all busy attempting to look after our bodies as the reality that we aren’t spring chickens any more sinks in.  The latest to be added to my collection is Helmsley Helmsley ‘The Art of Eating Well’ which I mainly bought because I wanted to make Paradise Bars.  Oh.  My.  God.  Best thing ever.  Like top quality Bounty bars, although like many healthy recipes, I have to remind myself that just because the ingredients are ‘good’ the bar itself is still very calorific, even if it is all good fat, so I need to not chomp them all in a week.  Which is hard.

Off to get one from the freezer now!

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:



Direct (under cloches) I’ve sown:

Spring Onions



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.


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


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


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


Pak Choi Tatsoi

Fennel Romanesco

Spinach Perpetual (Leaf Beat)



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.


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!


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.


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.


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!!