Friday 24 June 2016

A dark day

The moment when I turned on the television early this morning and saw the way the referendum was going keeps coming back to shock me anew. I am absolutely devastated at the exit vote. Devastated.

I am angry that David Cameron saw fit to gamble everything on a referendum. I am angry at the lurid headlines in the tabloid papers about floods of migrants. And I am angriest of all that now the environment is left without the protection of the EU. The government have already made it clear that they think protecting wildlife is less important than economic growth. Money at all costs.

I look at Boris Johnson and I look at Donald Trump and I despair. How did we get here? What world will our children inherit? It's a dark day.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Rhubarb cordial, cheese scones and a little cake anyone?

More cordial making this week, rhubarb this time thanks to Eclectic Home and Life who mentioned that not only had she made some but that her son loves it. I'm always on the lookout for things that are a hit with boys. I used allotment rhubarb, some freshly picked and some that I think I left on a bench last time. At least, I hope it was mine. It is now anyway.

The cordial is pretty good, and it has such a gorgeous colour. I left it on the side in the kitchen for a while just to enjoy the light shining through it. Not much pink around here as you know.

Also in the kitchen, cheese and chive scones, gnocchi with a tomato broth made by the biggest boy and a Victoria sandwich with jam, cream and strawberries. Oh, and a stream of salad - lettuce, rocket, mustards, radishes and sugar snaps.

The tomatoes are growing well, despite being in the frontline of Christiano Ronaldo-inspired football antics. Is anyone else rooting for Wales and Iceland?

Down at the allotment the weeds have gone completely mad. They're definitely winning. The mice are getting most of the strawberries. I'll give them another year (strawberries, not mice), but if I don't get much of a crop I'll take them out. No point giving up a 3m square and getting nothing back. At home there is less wildlife so we're picking quite a few now.

On the kitchen windowsill there's usually a few sprigs of something or other. At the moment there are rosebuds from the big rose down at the plot. It's a bit of a thug and not the sweetest scented thing, but it flowers from June to November, giant blowsy pink roses. It's not subtle or romantic or worthy of Instagram, but it's from another time when people planted thundering great big pink roses on their allotments and wouldn't have dreamt of growing vegetables in anything other than regimented rows and for that I love it. When I drive out of town I can see the flowers from the road, although they're a long way away.

I've been enjoying the greenness of the garden on these overcast days. The sun bleaches out some of the colour at this time of year, but when the layer of cloud is thick and dark the greens deepen against one another and I can't stop watching them.

I'm feeling a little jittery about the big vote tomorrow. I've heard hardly any mention of the environment. Mostly a lot of talk appealing to people's wealth. As if this is all we care about. I don't imagine I will be the only one waking up too early on Friday to find out which way the chips have fallen.

Monday 20 June 2016

Angels and ivy

I went to a wedding at a cemetery the other day. It's a glorious place, overgrown, atmospheric, full of wildlife. It's Victorian, originally laid out as an ancient Greek style landscape with a number of grand buildings, now listed. It fell into disrepair in the second half of the last century, with the groundsmen unable to keep up the maintenance of the 42 acres.

Around the turn of this century it seemed likely that the cemetery would be lost, but after a monumental effort funds were raised and restoration has begun. There's a cafe now, and walks around the grounds, and in one of the buildings there's space for weddings.

I only had my tiny camera with me, so the photos aren't great. It's somewhere I'd love to visit again, on a dark moody day, to take some more pictures with my other camera. Hopefully the restoration won't be too vigorous. The slightly wild look is wonderful. Much better than manicured grass and pristine chippings. This is what a cemetery should look like. Gradually fading back to nature.

Friday 17 June 2016

Five on Friday

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.

1. I managed not to miss the elderflowers this year and made a couple of batches of elderflower cordial using River Cottage's recipe, I made one with an orange and one without. Both good. Although the littlest boy was not impressed. "It tastes wrong. It just tastes wrong."

2. Strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb from the allotment. These early harvests are my favourites. Although I went today to pick more strawberries and the rain has wrought havoc. They are rotting and going mouldy and the mice are having quite an impact as well. I brought back a small punnet, but it was only a fraction of what it should have been.

3. Still practising calligraphy in odd moments. I have some new black ink and it's really scary. Drips fly out and it's only a matter of time before ink meets carpet in a disaster of epic proportions. I honestly am the clumsiest person I know. I managed to flick a massive swathe of tinned tomatoes all across my face and hair when I was cooking earlier. Yesterday I dropped a yoghurt which exploded in spectacular style all over me and the floor. It's a daily thing.

4. Last weekend I took the boys to a Festival of Nature in the city centre. It was brilliant, loads to see and marvel at, and a few food stalls too. I particularly liked the fermented foods one. Sauerkraut and kimchi amongst other things. The kimchi (an Asian fermented/pickled/spiced cabbage dish) was absolutely delicious. And apparently very good for the innards, what with all of its beneficial bacteria. I've had a go at making a batch but I'm not sure it's going to be successful. I put some garlic in, and the smell was so strong I've had to banish it to the garage while it ferments. I shan't give up though, I really like the idea of fermented pickles. I'm not a fan of things with vinegar poured over them, but the acid produced in fermentation is much milder and the flavours of the vegetables still comes through. Has anyone tried fermenting? Any tips?

5. Sad news on the wildlife front. The baby crane out at the wetlands place died. Anyone who has been watching Springwatch will know how low the survival rate can be for the young of pretty much everything. Lots of predation and other calamities. The cranes are very special as they've been extinct here in the southwest for 400 years. Around 90 were reintroduced to the Somerset levels a few years ago, and they are old enough to breed now. A couple of years ago the two chicks that hatched were taken by a fox. Last year a chick was reared successfully. Hopefully there will be more in the future.

Wishing you all a good weekend with hopefully a little summer sunshine. CJ xx

Sunday 12 June 2016

At the herb farm

I took a sneaky morning off from real life last week and went to have a look round Jekka's Herb Farm. Jekka McVicar is pretty much the queen of herbs with dozens of RHS gold medals to her name. Her herb farm is an inspirational place, packed with herbs of every description, and more varieties than I'd ever seen before. Some of them are ones she has bred herself.

It was wonderful to see how good herbs could look. I think many people have a pot of neglected mint or a rosemary in need of a prune. I know I have. Jekka had fantastic round mint bushes in tip top condition with so many intriguing flavours. Banana mint, lime mint, chocolate mint, berries and cream, apple mint. I left determined to take better care of my herbs. The rosemary and mint will be repotted and the bay trees will get a feed. I've got a list of things I'd like to try.

I particularly loved how many bees were clustered around the herbs in flower. They were particularly attracted to the lavender, the thymes and the borage, although I know they were on many other flowers as well. The farm is organic and Jekka has bee hives producing her own honey.

It all made me think that I don't use herbs enough in the kitchen. They really do add another dimension to food and in many cases they have a good effect on the body as well. The biggest boy has a little herb garden in his raised bed, and I think I shall try and add a few new things to it this summer and take a bit more care of the plants already there. Do you have any herbs you'd particularly recommend?

Saturday 11 June 2016

This week in the garden

The garden has been such a good place to be this week. It's that time of year when a quick trip outside to the bin turns into an hour or two of tidying, trimming and weeding.

The first of the strawberries are ripe. Last year the plants were terrible, sad little stumps doing almost nothing. At the end of the season they rallied a bit and put on a small amount of growth. This year they've taken off and it looks like there will be a good crop. I assume they just needed to settle in. Patience.

I've started tying in the tomatoes. As usual Sungold are the furthest ahead with little fruits already forming. Orkado is not far behind though, it's rapidly becoming my favourite for reliability. There were dozens of sideshoots to be pinched out and one or two plants had been snapped off the by the cricketers or the golfer. As usual everyone is blaming everyone else. Anyway, it wasn't me.

Fruit is swelling nicely and the raspberries are permanently covered in bees. They really are one of the best things for attracting pollinators to the kitchen garden. I visited Jekka's Herbs yesterday and learnt a few new things. I'll write about it more another day, but one of her tips was to plant borage at each end of the row of runner beans. Apparently that brings the bees from far and wide.

Chives are another thing that the bees love. This clump is just a supermarket pot of them planted in a tucked away corner and left to their own devices. They never fail to look beautiful every single year, and the flowers are so pretty pulled apart and sprinkled over salads. I leave most of them for the bees though.

The carrots have been resown after the first batch disappeared without trace. It seems to me that a decent slug or snail can happily work his way through a row or two of seedlings over the course of a night.

After a dry spell the heavens opened yesterday (at school pick-up time of course). There were several monsoon style deluges. Safe to say everything has been thoroughly watered. No amount of watering seems to equal a good natural downpour does it? Today everything looks gloriously green.

I hope your gardens or patios or window boxes are giving you pleasure too. And that you find a bit of time this weekend to go out and enjoy them. Or if you don't have a garden of your own, which I didn't for a very long time, that you can find a garden or a park to visit. This really is the very best time of year out there.

Friday 10 June 2016

Five on Friday

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.

1. It's taken me a while to get back into the swing of things after half term. I have lists of things to be done, here, there and everywhere. A To Be Done Very Soon list, a Don't Forget This Needs To Be Done At Some Stage list, an Allotment List, a separate Garden List and a Writing List. It's not always clear what the things on my list mean. There's a list in the kitchen that simply reads "Warrior Queens".  Say what now??? And one that says "Make a plan". I know what that one means. I've been drifting along with this writing thing in no particular direction. I need a focus. And I need more structure to what I'm doing.  X amount of time doing marketing, pitching etc. X amount of time messing around with a website, that sort of thing. But mostly I need a direction, something to focus a laser-like beam on. Well, that's not really me, I'm more of a floater arounder. But I do feel I need a Plan.

2. I've been faffing around in the garden this week (instead of making that plan). It's been gorgeous pottering weather. Pick a strawberry here, pluck a weed there, sprinkle a little water about the place. Late yesterday evening I was out there talking slugs over the fence with my next door neighbour. It was that cool, calm, blissful time of day. You know, after the children have gone to bed.

3. The biggest boy, who is 12, is now the same height as me (5'9" ish). I like to think I am a shade taller, but realistically even if I am he will be my height by next week. I have to buy him Small Man size clothes now and size 10 shoes (which is size 11 in the US I think). I can't keep up. I'm still heavier than him though.

4. I had a stroke of genius when it came to the backspace key on my laptop that's been driving me bananas. I swapped it with the Caps Lock key which is the only one on the keyboard the same size. I never use Caps Lock, so it's worked out perfectly. I can't tell you how happy it made me after a week of buying the wrong thing online. I have a key that doesn't fit, a bathroom lightbulb that doesn't fit and something that came from the US meaning I had to pay a fortune in Customs fees. The website had prices in pounds sterling so I didn't realise it would be coming from abroad. I was Not Happy. But the good news is I can hammer away on my backspace key so there's no limit to how long I can ramble on here now.

5. Photos from last weekend. We went to Cirencester for pizza to celebrate the littlest boy's 8th birthday. Pizza is just about his favourite thing ever. That and dogs and his beloved bear Jo Jo. Over tea today the biggest boy said, "When you get your dog, you'll wake up one morning and Jo Jo will be laid on the floor without his head. And your dog won't be feeling very well and they'll x-ray him and inside his tummy they'll see a bear's head." The middle boy, who can take any story and run with it said, "And they'll sew it back on and the next night he'll come to life and eat the head off of your dog". Nightmares anyone?

Sunday 5 June 2016

Down on the farm

Today was Open Farm Sunday here in the UK. I took the younger two along to a local organic dairy farm to see how it all works. The weather was glorious and it was such a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon. Acres of the greenest countryside in every direction. Beautiful hedgerows, abundant wildlife of every description. I particularly loved the swallows speeding over the barns.

We did all the usual farm visit things - a tractor ride, watching the milking, seeing sheep shearing, eating ice-cream. The fact that the farm is organic makes a big difference I think. Naturally healthy animals, chemical free hay and silage, a balanced ecosystem with no predator wiped out with pesticide use. The milk they produce is of the best quality and goes to make Cheddar cheese. The male calves are apparently sent to another nearby farm where they're raised for beef.

It was a pleasure to see how well farming can be done, how much care and pride the owners have in their operation. It reminded me that the extra cost of organic produce is money well spent for several reasons. I know this is a bit of a rosy picture, and that the reality of production of dairy products and meat is by its nature pretty harsh. It was explained that many male calves are simply shot when they're born. I try and make sure the children know the true cost of the food they have, and other things as well. But for one afternoon in June it was all pretty blissful down on the farm.