Friday, 28 June 2013

a fruity kiss

Yesterday the bees were swarming in the orchard, and had attached themselves to one of the pear trees. I called the beekeepers to come and collect the swarm, and taped the area off to stop people accidentally wandering into a bee frenzy. Today, with the new colony safely tucked up in a hive, I went to take the tape down and re-open the area. While I was there I thought I'd see how the soft fruit beds were coming along. The great news is -  the raspberries are ripening! Hooray!!!

the first real fruity kiss of the season,
there's nothing like a ripe raspberry warmed by the sun

not enough to sell, or worry about a recipe

just a little scrump for me...

..and a few for my colleagues
a couple of fruity favours in the bank!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

banana sourdough and a tale of woe

I'll get to the bananas in a minute - first, the tale of woe:

Yesterday, I fell out of a flowerbed at work.  I had been weeding, then tried to step over the plants to get out, rather than smushing them down by wading through.  Unfortunately, I stepped onto the stone edging of the bed, twisted my ankle, and fell into an undignified heap on the grass.

I have the ankles of a racehorse, (they have ankles right?) - and spraining them has been my lifelong, 'falling-over injury' of choice. Friends and family could enumerate the list of days out/holidays etc marred, (the more unsympathetic may say ruined), by my propensity for a sudden sideways dive - usually followed by at least half a day of sitting on the sofa with my foot up, requesting cups of tea and sympathy from passers by.

So this morning, with a slightly swollen foot and a spreading bruise, I found myself reading blogs in bed. What else is a girl to do? All plans involving walking any distance now shelved, I was inspired, (after reading my lovely friend Sian's post), to do a bit of housebound food blogging.

We have a sourdough starter called Iestyn* - cause he's got yeast in, geddit?  He has been part of the family for about three years now, and is just about right for my level of nurturing commitment. (Why are people so weird about putting pets and small children in the freezer while you go away on holiday - haven't they heard of cryogenics?)

Mostly I don't have the time to make sourdough bread - but in this house we luuuurrve sourdough pancakes for weekend brunch. As part of my campaign to empty the freezer a bit before we move everything for the builders, I decided to raid my stash of frozen overripe bananas.

Here are the results - banana sourdough pancakes with bacon and maple syrup:

a frozen banana or two, defrosted in the microwave

Iestyn, the sourdough starter

a little vanilla sugar 
(less than usual as the bananas add a lot of sweetness)

a ducky egg



served with bacon, butter and maple syrup

the vegetarian version

with a side order of Saturday papers
(maple syrup tastes better if it's out of a fancy bottle, right?)

Hope you all manage to stay upright this weekend....  x

*Actually his full name is Iestyn ap Burum, because he's a radical Welsh Nash and fully paid up Plaid Cymru member.

Friday, 21 June 2013

the promise of things to come

A little warmth, a little moisture, and the gardens are bursting into action.  You turn your back for what seems like just five minutes, and come back to find things have grown a foot.  I live in a world of sticks and brown string at this time of year - moving from one garden to another making sure that everything is getting the support it needs to hold the weight of the crop as it develops.

Crimson flowered broad beans
pea tendrils reaching for support

It's a time of promise - the first of the salad leaves that I sowed directly into the ground are nearly ready to start harvesting.

Spotted Bloody Cos lettuce
The cucumbers in the hotbed and my pumpkin patch babies are starting to rev up. They throw out their tendrils at such a speed, that it seems like you could hear them squeaking as they grow if you stood still for long enough. 

baby cucumber (with aphids - c'mon you ladybirds!)
The first tiny fruits are setting on the cucumbers - my dreams of making my own brine fermented pickles were fuelled by a visit to the Wisley bookstore, where I treated myself to Alys Fowler's lovely new book Abundance. (The fact that we're about to rip our kitchen out and fill the house with brick dust seems like a mere detail).


In the orchard the fruitlets are swelling and changing colour...

Cornish Gillyflower apples

..and in the fruit gardens the gooseberries hang like jewels - still rock hard, eye wateringly sour and guarded by the most ferocious prickles. I'll be wearing full body armour when it's time to pick them - and even then I'll end up covered in the kind of lacerations that look like they might be a cry for help.

Soon I should be harvesting plenty of produce to show you...
..things are looking promising!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

meet you at the nectar bar

There's been a lot in the press recently about declining bee numbers, and how we all need to do everything we can to support the wild population.  As gardeners we are encouraged to help out by planting stuff that the bees will enjoy.

So - hands up who's doing their bit?


check these guys out

My previous attempts at photographing bees in the orchard have required a kind of 'swoop and snap' approach, as they only spend a few seconds on each flower. 
But this patch of welsh onion flowers clearly has some good stuff going on.
The bees are there for ages, just mooching around...

on nectar and heavy with pollen


they're mostly Bumblies and the patch was humming with them

I think the soundtrack would be some kind of smoky, lazy jazz



Monday, 10 June 2013

happy accidents

Sometimes a perfect day is planned for, other times it's a happy accident - and very occasionally, the stars align and the two come together. A little scheme that's been bubbling on the back burner, meets an opportunity that's too good to pass up - for me that's always the best combination.

This week the gods of industrial action gave me a Saturday off work that I hadn't expected. After opening the curtains to glorious sunshine and checking the tide times for our area - I knew it was the right day to go and hunt down my next foraging treasure.  Marsh Samphire - deliciously salty and impossibly expensive in smart restaurants, it grows freely through the summer in the tidal salt marshes that garland the Welsh coast.  (Well that's what the books say, and I have been planning a mission to find some for a while now).

You know you married the right guy when the question 'How do you fancy going to stand up to your shins in mud in the estuary to forage for samphire?', is met with the slightly bleary eyed response of 'Oooh - that sounds exciting'.  That's my boy!

Armed with wellies, buckets and scissors, we set off for the coast to an area that my research told me should deliver the goods. After a bit of a walk and some eagle eyed searching we found our prize.

It's a little bit early in the season so the shoots are still very small.

This one was our champion specimen.

The rest were more like this.

But an hour or so of glorious squelching and snipping, yielded enough for a supper dish for two.

Now I'd like to tell you that we gathered the rest of our supper too, but that would be a lie! We stopped off at the supermarket on the way home to buy a bag of mussels, some sourdough bread and enough wine to make moules mariniere, with a glass or two left over for the sunburned foragers.

Wash the samphire in fresh water just before you cook it - I steamed it for about 3 minutes.
Served with butter, black pepper and a great big bowl of delicious mussels.

Perfect end to a perfect day.

Friday, 7 June 2013

bad hair day

I like to learn new skills. As well as long periods of regular employment for decent money - my portfolio career has included interludes of toilet cleaning in a psychiatric hospital, cauliflower picking and dental assisting in Western Australia, and occasional stints as a waitress, barmaid and checkout chick. I think I have mentioned previously that one of my mantras has always been 'You'll never be in the gutter if you're till trained.' I have a very dear friend in NYC who, as well as wishing all the usual 'health and happiness' stuff for her child, publicly states that she would like to equip her daughter with all the skills she might need to live under a bridge by the time she's nine. That's my kind of parenting!

Bearing all that in mind, I seized the opportunity to have a go at sheep shearing yesterday. My very patient colleague (who is a proper kick-ass farm girl), had the first bunch of ewes and yearlings in to shear, so I asked her to teach me.

Now I realise that at nearly six foot and pushing fifty I wouldn't be anybody's first choice as a shearing hand - but I was prepared to give it my best shot! I was brought up watching competitive shearing at the local A and P* shows in NZ (we knew what real entertainment was in those days!).


...turns out REALLY HARD!

A bit like wielding a cut-throat razor and trying to hold a really difficult yoga position...
.. while somebody tries repeatedly to push you over.

This was my first attempt...

The one in the middle is how they should look - the other two are mine.
I think the rest of the sheep are probably being mean to them about their hairdos now.

But I managed to get the fleeces off in one piece, without severing any ears (or other vital bits and bobs). Today, I feel slightly like I have been hit by a truck, but intend to have another go when the farmers bring the main flock in some time next week.

Don't know about you, but if the sheep need shearing after the Apocalypse - I'm gonna be ready....!!!

*Agricultural and Pastoral Shows

Sunday, 2 June 2013

lazy weekend

Because I work half of my weekends, it's such a precious treat to have a weekend off with the sun shining and nothing planned. Yesterday we lounged around with breakfast in bed, then had a mooch to our fantastic local flea market. It's a proper old fashioned junkshop where the guy does house clearances and sells stuff cheap. I picked up this very sweet little jug for a pound - can't resist a bit of vintage metal/enamel kitchenalia. I try to restrict myself to practical items that are clean enough to use, (otherwise the house would be full of dented, rusting colanders).

But then the sun went to our heads and we bought a pair of these slightly wild, red vinyl and chrome chairs. Not sure what the hell we're going to do with them - but hey, they were only £10 each! If this was The Apprentice 'Buy Tat and Flog It For a Profit' task, we'd be off to Shoreditch now to sell them for £300 for the pair.

What ya thinking Mr Asparagus Pea?
Today we headed over to the other side of town  - where we used to live before Mr Asparagus Pea asked me to marry him. (Then I flogged his house out from underneath him and dragged him and the boys across to live in my old neighbourhood). There is a lovely Arts Centre there called Chapter, where I was part of a community garden project before we moved. Now I just help out occasionally with the odd bit of advice or pruning demo session. Today was their Big Lunch event so I wanted to call in and see how it's all progressing.

I'm so proud of how much they have achieved and I know the garden will continue to develop and improve as the permanent planting matures. In the meantime they are doing lots of great annual veg and bee/insect friendly stuff to fill the beds.

I even got a jar of honey from the Chapter bees to thank me for helping out.  Sweeeet!

Hope your weekend was lovely too...