Tuesday 29 September 2015

The September garden

A post from the garden rather than the plot this month.  There are still quite a few flowers blooming in this glorious sunshine we've been having.  In fact I might need to water all the pots, they're looking really dry.  The bees are still busy everywhere, especially on the cosmos.  I think I'll always have cosmos in the garden from now on, they really earn their keep.  Flowers for weeks and weeks, and always attracting bees.

There are masses of figs, but I'm going to take them off because they're not fully grown yet, so there's no chance they'll ripen.  It'll be a job for rubber gloves, fig sap is quite irritating to the skin.  Ask me how I know.

I grew some late sugar snap peas (intentionally) and late runner beans (not intentionally - they just didn't get going for ages).  So now I have both to pick, which is lovely so late in the season.  I must remember to plant late sugar snaps next year too.  I shall try harder to have some available all summer, we can easily eat as many as I can grow, they're a real treat.

I grew carrots!  It turns out they love the dry powdery soil in the garden.  And they've been almost completely blemish free, by some miracle.  Maybe the carrot flies can't get into the garden over our fences.  I've heard they can't get up high.  So maybe they're all behind the fence trying to work out how to get in.  Anyway, the carrots have been a triumph.  One of them has flowered, but the rest are just doing the normal thing.

The herbs are doing nicely, and there are still tomatoes, although some of them are splitting, and they are getting to the end of the line.  I'll probably take the plants out at the weekend.  I have a few pots of tomato sauce in the freezer - tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and red pepper - simple, but oh so delicious, especially in the depths of winter.  The discovery of the year was the tomato Orkado (pictured), which did brilliantly for me.  All my tomatoes are grown outside, most of them in the soil which they seem to like a lot more than pots.  I'll definitely be growing it again next year.

Things will no doubt be looking quite different by the end of next month.  Once the frosts hit, the cucumbers and courgettes and flowers at the plot will be finished.  But for the time being, I'm so enjoying this late sunshine, and I hope you are too if you're lucky enough to have it.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Me and the Giant Peach

Asters, absolutely covered with bees
the river

a birdwatching hide by the river

One or two of you (okay maybe just one of you) expressed an interest in seeing the completed Giant Peach.  Alas, I am sorry to say I will be disappointing you.  There was a very short window in which the Giant Peach was actually dry and functional, and I omitted to take a photo.  The whole thing was a pretty sorry tale, with a messy shouty ending.  So while I have no pictures, I will of course regale you with the entire thing, banging on ad nauseum, until you feel a little of my pain.

The first Giant Peach, which I pictured drying so happily in the sun, was doing fine until early on Wednesday morning.  I turned the oven on for a moment, to just warm it slightly, then got into an animated discussion with the biggest boy about whether it was practical to go to school for an entire day, including sports activities, with no food at all.  As I was driving home my opinion there was a sad popping sound in the oven, and that was the end of that.

I had a long chat with the littlest boy about the virtues of being Danny the Champion of the World (no costume!) or Charlie from the Chocolate Factory (golden ticket, chocolate bar - I was almost certain I could manage that).  He said very nicely that he could be those people, although he would really rather have a Giant Peach.

So I spent Wednesday morning messily mashing a new peach together (balloon, forced into a ball shape by the lavish application of Sellotape, overlaid with newspaper and flour-and-water-paste).  It was horribly gungy.  I used a tea towel to contain the mess, and hid it in the washing machine to deal with later.  Then I started the whole drying process again, this time concentrating really hard on not leaving the oven on for more than sixty seconds.  I went to the shops for peach coloured paint.  There was no peach coloured paint, only red, white and yellow at a cost of £1.79 each.  I bought bright orange tissue paper for 55p.

By Thursday afternoon the peach was dry-ish, so I mod-podged on the tissue paper and printed off some insects for the littlest boy to colour and stick on.  The orange was really bright, and if I'm totally honest the effect wasn't entirely peach-like.  Roald Dahl would have done me a big favour if he'd written James and the Giant Knobbly Orange.  But we're big on imagination here, we pictured it as a peach.

By Friday, aka Roald Dahl Day, the peach had dried some more and split across the bottom.  The littlest boy carried bravely on.  I dropped him off at school, heaved a huge sigh of relief, and went bird-watching with the biggest boy, who had an INSET day.  For a moment, in the sunshine there was a sort of blissful peace.  I remember it even now.

I dragged him away in the end, in time to get home and collect the littles from school.  It took a while to get him to leave, but we got there in the end.  If only we'd managed it ten minutes earlier.

When I got home, the other half was on the phone with someone, and his computer was beeping wildly.  He waved me out of the room.  When he finally finished his call, he told me his computer had been hacked, but all should be fine now because he'd rung the number that came up and paid them a great chunk of money.  Words almost, but luckily not quite, failed me.

I picked the children up.  He made an emergency trip to the bank to cancel his card.  I impressed upon the children the need to be low maintenance for a while until the adults had regained their composure.  The littlest boy asked if he could hit the Giant Peach with a hammer.  I said I felt not.  I had plans for the hammer myself.  I said he could burst the balloon with scissors if he really wanted to.

The other half returned, poorer but wiser,  I unblocked the toilet because, you know, if never rains...  Then I discovered that in the living room the littlest boy had utterly demolished the peach into a hundred pieces, along with a huge drift of floury, newspapery flakes.  I explained that THAT WAS NOT WHAT I MEANT BY LOW MAINTENANCE.

So that is the entire sorry tale of the Giant Peach.  I woke up this morning to bright sunshine, and took a very deep breath.  I went for a little run, although my ankle is still not right from when I sprained it, and also I made it slightly worse again yesterday when I was miming showjumping across the living room.  But it was a new day, onwards and upwards.

I stuck some washing in the machine.  Imagine my surprise when I took it out and discovered the flour-paste tea towel, and little lumps of sticky papier mache all over absolutely everything.  School costume days really are the gift that keeps on giving.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Colour Collaborative: September: Market

Photos from last week's local farmers' market in town.  I do like farmers' markets.  There's always something different and always a real flavour of the area.  Ours isn't the trendiest, but it's still well worth a visit on the two days each month when it's held.  There's also a much bigger food fair from time to time.  I'm always glad to see local food for sale.  It's just a shame that it's a once in a while novelty.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if this was how we shopped every day?

I know food from markets tends to be more expensive, but sometimes I like to have less of something, but enjoy the fact that it's local.  I think we appreciate it more, and it's never ever wasted.  Cheeses are a favourite, and the odd jar of chutney or pickle.  I like to find seasonal fruit as well, plums picked when they're just ripe, instead of the hard balls at Tesco that came here from Chile weeks ago.  Nothing like a plum they are.  Apples of different varieties that you'll never see at the supermarket.  Strawberries that will only last a couple of days because they're so real and delicious.

I like to wander through the market looking at the changing produce as the seasons roll on.  At the moment there are the first vivid orange squashes and creamy white cauliflower curds.  There are slender green and white leeks, and the dusty greens of apples grown through a long season without chemicals.  Nothing bright or shiny here, the skins are the dull oranges and olive greens of pippins and russets.  The plums veer from purple to pale yellow, with a soft bloom shading their thin skins.  The greens are deep and healthy, cabbages grown in our west country rain and beans from our dark fertile soil.  As winter moves closer the palette will narrow to the whites and oranges of root vegetables and the hearty bottle green of kales.  But right now as the Autumn equinox passes it is harvest time, and the market is filled with bounty.  If I can't grow or make it myself, this is the place I most like to buy it.

To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

               Annie at Annie Cholewa                       Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

               Sandra at Cherry Heart                          Jennifer at Thistlebear

               Sarah at Mitenska

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Wonder Woman and the Giant Peach

"Help, can't breathe."
Misty mornings, dewy spiders' webs and crane flies.  It's that time of year.  I've been going at things far too slowly I think.  I'm ready for the new term at last.  I feel that bit of determination and the need to be organised circling in my brain.  I could make New Year's resolutions today, and I've finally come up with a word to live the year by - "Productive".  That's what I need to be, productive.  I want to be Wonder Woman.  I was talking to a busy friend who was still working at midnight the other day.  I need to put more effort in I think.

I had all these thoughts this morning.  After lunch I found myself in the garden, weeding and tidying.  I often end up gardening that way.  One minute I'm walking along on my way to the bin at the end of the garden, the next thing I have a trowel in my hand and I'm rooting out weeds.  I got rid of the tomatoes in pots on the patio as well.  They weren't a success.  Tomatoes in my garden like to be in the soil for some reason.  I picked a load the other day and made sauce for the freezer.  Winter spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce, love it.  The remaining tomatoes are ripening very slowly.  In the cold dripping early mornings they look quite sorry for themselves.  A tomato should be basking in the sun shouldn't it.  There might be a few more to be had though.

There's a giant peach in my oven.  The children's school love to torture parents with regular dressing up days.  This week it's Roald Dahl Day.  Apparently James of Giant Peach fame just wears regular clothes, so if you have a giant papier mache peach you can wear what you want.  The littlest boy and I tackled the project after school.  We sellotaped a balloon down to make it rounder, more peach less balloon shaped, then stuck on strips of newspaper with 50:50 flour and water paste.  I was sat there with it dripping from my hands, trying to grip a slippery balloon and smooth out the paper nicely, and the littlest boy said, "Gosh, it looks just like a giant peach!".  Not a hint of sarcasm.  I do so love his happy take on life.

The first couple of layers are drying out now.  I've popped it in the oven, and every so often I turn it on for a couple of minutes to keep it lightly warm.  If I forget to turn it off, which is extremely likely, the balloon will go bang and I'll just have an oven full of soggy newspaper sticking to the walls.  If all goes well and I end up with a peach I understand it needs to be decorated with insects.  Anyone know anything about that?  I haven't read the book, but I've seen something about bugs and seagulls.  There are some scarily professional ones on Google Images.  I'm not sure I'll rise to seagulls.  When we've perfected the giant peach, we will be moving on to giant ears for the BFG.  Wish me luck.

Friday 18 September 2015

Five on Friday

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.

Allotment flowers.  I don't pick them regularly, and I leave quite a few for the bees, but sometimes it's nice to have a little bunch about the house.  At this time of year there's a sense of needing to enjoy them before the end of the season.

Autumn planting.  Sprouts and pansies.  A good pansy will keep going until spring.  No idea how they manage to keep blooming through the winter, they're really quite extraordinary.

Badgers at the allotment.  Happily, despite all of the works in the field over the back, the badgers are still about.  This isn't my sweetcorn, but someone else who's put in all the hard work will turn up and discover the badgers got there first.  I'm wondering why the badgers aren't eating the apples.  Maybe they're saving them for later.  They do seem to have a very good sense of when things are perfectly ripe.

A wonderful gift in the post.  A giveaway from the lovely Sue at Mr Micawber's Recipe for Happiness, thank you so much Sue.  Gorgeous plates, a tea towel that has vegetables on it, so is absolutely perfect for me, scrumptiously soft yarn, a mix of merino and silk and a lovely big red button.  The littlest boy asked if the yarn would be going into his blanket.  I fear not, it will be going around my neck in a delicious scarf I think.

A little calligraphy.  I got a book from the library, and just occasionally I have a moment to squiggle down some letters.  It's something that has always fascinated me.  Back when I was doing property law I used to love looking at title deeds from the 1800s.  Huge pieces of vellum, A3 or bigger, covered with immaculate copperplate script.  I liked to imagine the writer spending their days writing, writing, writing.  In my mind it was exactly like a scene from Dickens.  I've discovered that the beautiful swirly scripts are the trickiest.  Of course, they would be.

I'm wishing you all a good weekend.  I shall be tackling the garden on Saturday morning I think.  There are tomatoes that need to be turned into sauce and weeds that need to be weeded.  Living it large, I know.  Laters, CJ xx

Tuesday 15 September 2015

A dodgy barnet and an insightful interview

green roof, blue sky

the flower plot

I took the littlest boy to the barber's today,  His barnet* was annoying him and the lure of the post haircut lollipop was strong.  I like it at the barber's.  Until I had three boys I'd never stepped inside one.  It intrigues me.  In the front of the shop are leather seats, free coffee, Sky tv (always on), an Xbox (out of order) and a fine assortment of man reading material.  Out the back are the barbers, two or three young guys, holding shouted conversations with punters and each other about football, celebrities and, well, that's about it as far as I can tell.

I usually like to read The Sun or the Daily Star and see what I'm missing in the world of tabloid excess.  Recently they've stopped taking them though, so today it was GQ or Muscle Building Meatheads (that might not have been the exact title).  I chose the muscle building.  The photos were quite horrific.  I couldn't stop staring.  Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is 68, works out almost every day and he's just made another Terminator movie?  That's nearly 70!  And he hasn't let it stop him.  If it's worth doing, it's worth flogging to death.

The littlest boy persuaded the barber to cut his fringe extra short, something they were reluctant to do because of his cow's lick.  (The Urban Dictionary defines this as "a parting in someone's hair that naturally goes to the back of their head - so it looks like a cow has licked your head". )  He was warned that if he had a short fringe it would stick up on one side mate and be all wonky.  He was keen to go for it anyway.  It's a look all his own.

I shall leave you with a conversation I had with the biggest boy, who had to interview a parent about their favourite villain.  He chose me, which is a novelty, he normally picks his father, but apparently he doesn't read books with villains, so me it was.

BB:   Who's your favourite villain?

Me:    Hmm, I don't know, that's tricky.  I can't think of any.  [Long pause].  Lord Voldemort.

BB:    Seriously???

Me:    I don't know any others.

BB:    Smaug?  Moriarty?

Me:    I can't remember anything about Smaug.  And I haven't read any Sherlock Holmes.

BB:    [With an undertone of slight impatience] Well what about from something you have read.  The Hunger Games?  Fifty Shades of Grey?

Me:    [Choking slightly]  I don't remember The Hunger Games that well.

BB:    [Eyeing me speculatively]  Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?

Me:   I've read Fifty Sheds of Grey but there wasn't a villain as such.

In the end we went with Lord Voldemort.  I told him he could write "My mother reads children's books" at the end of it.  At one point he corrected my grammar.  I told him he could also write, "My mother has appalling grammar as well as reading children's books".

After he had grilled me at length about Lord Voldemort he asked me if there was anything I would like to add, and then faithfully transcribed my reply.

Me:  No thank you, I'm going to do the washing-up now, but thank you for your time.

Do you suppose it's all a subtle test to see how intelligent the parents are?

                                                              *  *  *  *  *  *  *

*Barnet being cockney rhyming slang for hair - Barnet Fair/hair

Thursday 10 September 2015

An own goal

sedum, beloved of bees

apple Sunset - aptly named no?

every rose has its thorns

Something's afoot down at the allotments.  Beyond my plot, and the hedgerow and the stream on the other side, there's a big field.  It was full of Christmas trees a few years ago, and since then it's been left untouched.  It was where the wild things lived.  Quite often you could see a rabbit over there, taking a break from eating allotment delicacies such as lettuces and strawberry plants and pea shoots.  As nature took over and filled the field with nettles and flowers, the insects had a, well, they had a field day.

But a couple of weeks ago a tractor arrived and started churning the earth up.  Then several heavy plants turned up.  (Is that the right terminology?  They aren't really plants, they're giant yellow beasts that shake the ground and scare the birds from the trees.)  It was all most disconcerting.  The field was flattened, and still the machines chugged up and down.

An allotment neighbour gave me the low down this morning.  It's to be a new football pitch.  I didn't quite know what to say to that, being as the children are footballers and I suppose might conceivably play on there one day.  But I do wish it was still wild.  The allotment had a nice feeling of being right on the edge of the wilderness before.  Now it's got a feeling of being right on the edge of the Emirates Stadium.  Oh I exaggerate, I know.  But I don't like change, and I especially don't like change that takes away wildlife.  The fields down the road have been concreted over, and where there used to be cows, now there are houses.    I don't have the answers, but I don't like it all the same.

I did some autumn things on the plot.  Taking down beansticks, cutting the fruited wood out of the wineberry, digging up some volunteer potatoes.  I made Allotment Surprise for tea.  I knew what the littlest boy would say before he even said it.  "I don't like Allotment Surprise".  It was a kind of vegetable hotpot.  Onions, potatoes, carrots, courgette, green beans, borlotti beans, tomatoes and a little bit of scorzonera, with some stuffed pasta to bulk it out a bit.  I do love meals that come from the plot and the garden.  Makes I 'appy.