Sunday, 25 August 2013

storing sunshine

Picking fresh greens and rushing them to the table is great. Eating a sun ripened plum straight from the tree is wonderful. But there is a deep satisfaction in putting stuff away for the winter that seems to come from another place and time.  It feels like the right thing to be doing at this time of year. The afternoons are full of sunshine and lazy wasps, but there's a faint tang of autumn in the early morning air. This is our busiest time at work, so I try to find something gentle and interesting to show the visitors in the midst of all the craziness - I recently spent a couple of happy afternoons making these pretty things...

A cold March and a hot July produced a bumper crop of shallots and garlic this year.
 They have been drying off on trays in the shed, and now they're ready to clean and store. 

Making strings and plaits to hang in a cool, dark shed is the traditional way to store the crop.
 Plenty of air circulation to prevent mould, and well away from any passing nibblers.
 They can be bought into the kitchen one at a time, and should last well into next year.
(I wanted to take more process pictures but it would have required growing an extra arm).

I use raffia to make a loop to string the shallots,

and to tie three garlic heads together to start my plaits.

Pretty and practical - perfect!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

cool as a cucumber

One my most frequently asked questions at work is 'What's that? (while pointing at a common vegetable in its mature flowering/fruiting phase). There is often a faintly accusatory tone, particularly if the specimen in question appears to be dead. Sometimes the enquiry comes in the form 'Why do you let your vegetables go bad?' My reassuring explanations that vegetable seed comes from vegetable flowers, not just from packets at the garden centre, are met with grudgingly suspicious acceptance. My follow up scramble through the difference between annual, biennial and perennial, and the need to collect ripe seed from a (sadly deceased) parent plant, or an unappetisingly leathery mature fruit, feels like an alibi. I may not have shot the sheriff - but I did allow those peas to complete their life cycle in order to harvest viable seed.

So thank goodness for my lovely hotbed cucumbers - happily demonstrating all phases of growth at the same time.*  Pickling size 10cm, salad size 15cm and 'the one that got away' - 20 cm, completely inedible and full of mature seed to collect and sow next year...

*My early season romantic dreams of brining my own cucumbers from the hotbed obviously failed to take into account the arrival of the builders and the removal of the kitchen. I won't be preserving anything that can't take it's chances hanging in the shed - thank goodness it's been a bumper year for shallots and garlic (more of that soon). 

Sunday, 11 August 2013


We went to the Eisteddfod - it's the annual Welsh cultural shindig for all things literary/musical/artistic, (if you're looking for competitive sheep shearing and tractors, then you need the Royal Welsh Show).
This year it was in Denbigh, North Wales - just a few miles up the road from Mr Asparagus Pea's childhood home. So we went to stay with my mother-in-law and took her for a day out at the 'steddfod. I have to confess at this point that it's not entirely my thing, the finer points of group recitation are a bit of an acquired taste!  But there's enough art and craft and beer to keep me interested for a few hours, (combined with a healthy dollop of wifely duty).

We bought this print.
 It will probably go in the new laundry/WC - I like a bit of toilet art. 
Maybe with a plain oak arts and craftsy style frame. 
It's by Ruth Jen, an artist based near Aberystwyth. 

The text is a fragment of the Welsh idiom 'Ofer codi pais wedi piso'
(literally translated: No point lifting your petticoat after you've peed).

It means something between: 
'Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted'...

.. and  'No point crying over spilt milk'.

Ruth has done a whole series of really quirky images using the 'Welsh lady' as a recurring motif.
 I love the combo of strong graphics and humour (with a refreshing lack of sentimentality).

What do you think...?!?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

zut alors!

Just got back from a short break in France - we went with some friends to the Dordogne region to stay in their family place. The weather was hot, the food was beautiful and the Bergerac wine was good and cheap. I was intending to fill this blog with lake swimming, scent it with pine resin and wreath it in vines and sunflowers. Then this happened....

On the Friday night we had a pleasant meal in a local town square, then headed back to the house to beat the electrical storm that was gathering on the horizon. As we parked the car in the yard and made a run for the house it was raining heavily - within moments the rain had turned to hail.

*Warning - This video contains (not very muffled) expletives!

The storm was violent and fast moving, smashing everything in its path. The power was off within minutes, so we hunkered down behind closed shutters for a bout of (slightly unhinged) Scrabble by candlelight. The following morning we woke up to smashed windows, puddles of water dripping through holes in the roof and a scene of devastation in the garden and surrounding countryside.

Vines stripped

Sunflowers smashed

Corn flattened.

The brighter side of darkness was that Didier, the neighbour, turned out to be an absolute saint. He rustled up an electrician friend, who worked his way through the extremely cranky wiring system and had us powered up again by lunchtime. Not in time to stop the small lake spreading from the bottom of the freezer, but an admirable effort in extremely trying circumstances!

Then there was the arrival of the hot firemen! The local emergency plan had kicked in and squadrons of Sapeurs-pompiers turned up (in extremely cute outfits and very shiny helmets). They covered the smashed part of the roof in plastic sheeting and boarded up the broken windows.

As the best French speaker in the group, I was immediately designated Officer in Charge of talking to everyone. It was an unexpected chance to brush up my emergency French - I can't remember studying 'The Day The Hailstorm Smashed The Roof Off Somebody Else's House', but it was in there somewhere. So to the good people of St Martin de Gurson who helped us in our hour of need "Merci beaucoup - vous étiez très gentils"

Meanwhile - back at the ranch, the builders have been smashing holes in the back of our house...

 (but we did ask them to do it)