Friday, 25 January 2008

On a winter walk.

I was out for a rather wintry walk recently when I spotted this old tree stump at the base of a hedge. In the spring and summer it is probably hidden by other plants but now as the surrounding plants have died back it is visible. As the top of the stump is decaying, there must be enough rotted debris and fallen leaf material from the surrounding plants to support the growth of this mini moss and foxglove garden on the top.

It seems a good example of recycling, the tree decaying and now supporting other plant life. I will try to remember to have a look during the summer and see the foxgloves in flower.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Winter scent.

This little evergreen shrub is growing just a few feet from my front door and at this time of year it is covered with these small white fragrant flowers. I catch a hint of the scent whenever I go in and out of the house. It is Sarcococca otherwise known as Christmas Box or Sweet Box.

The flowers are quite small but make up for that with their perfume. Its not really a pretty floral type of smell, more of a spicy scent which somehow seems appropriate for a winter flowering shrub.
In a couple of weeks it will be upstaged by more showy spring flowers, hellibores, celandines and early daffodils are all pushing their way up through the soil nearby, but at the moment the star plant is definitely the Sweet Box.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Mild and Wet.

The weather here is definitely crazy at the moment. My garden is rapidly turning into a swamp (I wouldn't be surprised if the chickens decided to grow webbed feet!) and we have temperatures so mild it feels like spring instead of January. Last night the temperature in London was 13.3C (about 56F) which is the highest January night time temperature on record.

Although I would prefer some cold crisp January weather I am hoping that the increased temperatures might at least make the grass on my lawn grow a bit quicker to compensate for the amount that gets nibbled and scratched by chickens.

This is my latest experiment to move them on from their favourite scratching places in an attempt to even out the wear over the rest of the lawn area.

I have pruned my autumn raspberries a bit early and pushed short sections of raspberry cane into the ground. I hope that the chickens will move elsewhere and give the ground a chance to recover. However, they do seem to have been quite thorough in their ground clearance and I'm not sure if there is anything left in the ground to start growing!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

"Green" mashed potatoes and Anglesey Eggs.

No, not literally green mashed potatoes but cooking potatoes using less fuel. I have been trying to reduce our electricity consumption and since I cook using electricity and I cook a lot I've been trying to think of ways to cut down on energy use.

I reasoned that cooking times depend on the size of the food being cooked, for example a loaf of bread takes longer to cook than the same mass of dough cooked as bread rolls. I have been cutting vegetables up smaller than usual to reduce the cooking times. I then started thinking about the shape of the vegetables and decided that slices would cook quickest having the greatest surface area in contact with the hot water.

So for my low energy mash I cut the potatoes in slices about 0.5cm thick and put them in a pan with just enough cold water to cover them. With the pan lid on I brought the water to the boil and then reduced the heat to a simmer for about three minutes and then turned the heat off. The potatoes continue to cook in the hot water and mine were ready to be drained and mashed after about five minutes standing. Compared to boiling larger chunks of potato for 15-20 minutes I think that this method of cooking must use less than half the energy.

The main points which save energy are

  • Slicing the potatoes fairly thinly to reduce cooking time

  • putting the potatoes into cold water and then bringing it to the boil so that the potatoes start to cook while the water is being heated

  • using just enough water to cover the potatoes so that energy is not used to heat excess water

  • keeping the lid on the pan at all times

  • turning off the heat before the end of the cooking and letting the potatoes continue cooking in the hot water

The recipe I was using the mash for is a favourite of ours Anglesey Eggs. I saw this recipe in a magazine several years ago but never copied it down so my version my well vary from the original. I don't know whether it has any connection with the island of Anglesey or whether someone wanted a welsh sounding name because the recipe contains leeks.

It is a very simple supper dish to prepare. Basically it is a layer of mashed potatoes and leeks, topped with hard boiled eggs and cheese sauce.

Prepare enough mashed potato to feed everyone and stir into it steamed chopped leeks. My leeks are not very big this year so I use one per person. Put the leek/potato mixture into a casserole dish, level the surface and with the back of a spoon make shallow depressions for the hard boiled eggs. I use one or two eggs per person.

Prepare enough fairly thick cheese sauce to cover the eggs and potato mixture. I use a strong cheddar cheese. Pour the cheese sauce over the eggs and potato mix.

Then put in the oven ( around 180C) to heat through, which takes about 15 minutes or simply put under the grill until the cheese sauce bubbles. You can assemble it in advance and then cook it later but to cook from chilled it will need a lot longer probably about 45 minutes for the size shown here.

I usually serve this with carrots and cabbage as it seems to need some brightly coloured vegetables to brighten up the plate otherwise it does look all very pale!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Our garden in January

Today we had a lovely stay-at-home Sunday. Its exam time again (it seems to be exam time nearly all the time this year) and so a quiet day was in order. I took the opportunity to take a few photographs of the garden in January.

There was plenty of time to watch the chickens pecking their way around the garden.

I could spend ages watching Sage and Onion scratching about the garden, they have different habits and "personalities". Sage, the brown one, is the tamest of the two and every day when I sit on the bench in the garden she immediately jumps up to stand on my lap and spend three or four minutes grooming herself - maybe she's not being friendly perhaps she just wants something warm to stand on! Onion will stand on the bench beside me but that is close enough for her. The down side of letting them free range in the garden for most of the day is the amount of mess they cause. This photograph shows part of my lawn!

I'm not sure how well this is going to recover. At the moment the chickens are definitely pecking away at the grass far faster than it can grow but I am hoping that once the weather warms up a little that the balance might be restored and possibly that the grass might win over the chickens.

There are signs that plants are growing and that spring is round the corner. This is my first clump of snowdrops although they have been slightly hen-pecked too.

Not quite in flower yet, the first celandine.

Shrubs which flower in the winter often tend to be less showy than summer blooms but getting up close with the camera shows lots of detail that might be missed with just a quick glance.

Viburnum tinus.

Winter Jasmine.


This my favourite of these photographs, I'd always thought rosemary had quite insignificant flowers until I saw all the details in close up.

The view from my kitchen window into the back garden looks very dull and muddy, it wasn't until I took my camera out and looked more closely that I noticed how much was out in flower even on a dull January day.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Food for thought.

This is a wonderful set of photographs. They depict the amount of food that an average family eats in a week in various countries around the world. We all know that there are huge differences in the amount of food eaten in different countries but the pictures really highlight this.

The pictures were taken by Peter Menzel and are from the book "Hungry Planet" .

Sunday, 6 January 2008

moan, moan,moan

I am fast turning into a grumpy old woman in 2008. After my last post complaining about the temperature at work I am now annoyed by the recycling facilities (or lack of ) in our area.

Yesterday we chopped our Christmas tree up into manageable pieces and my husband took it to be recycled - site closed - the nearest place is 14 miles away. He didn't make the trip but came home. I'm not sure that driving 28 miles to recycle a Christmas tree would make good ecological sense anyway. Which do you think would be worse in terms of greenhouse gases, a Christmas tree anaerobically decomposing in landfill and producing methane or the carbon dioxide produced by driving 28 miles so that the tree can be shredded and composted?

Our local authority doesn't collect cardboard and we had a few weeks worth to be recycled. Today we were near to a supermarket with recycling facilities so we decided to drop it off. This is what the cardboard recycling area looked like.

The whole area was very messy, all the containers were full so the option was to leave stuff near to the relevant container or bring it home again.
It does seem a shame that when we are being encouraged to recycle that the facilities provided do not meet the need. I wonder how much stuff ends up in landfill just because the effort to find somewhere to take it to be recycled is just too great.
I promise to make my next post more positive and I will not grumble about anything!!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Its too hot!

Today was my first day back at work after the break and after spending lots of time snuggled up at home in thick jumpers and cardigans the thing that struck me most was how hot the building was. Its always hot and I wear fewer layers of thinner clothing to compensate but after a couple of weeks living at much lower temperatures today I felt almost uncomfortably warm. I also noticed that my skin felt drier and more taut by the end of the day.

I don't know when workplaces started to be heated to high temperatures but I know of several buildings which are kept at such a high temperature that windows have to be opened to let the heat out! I don't know which came first, that buildings are hot so everyone wears short sleeved clothes in the winter or that fashion has dictated that light weight clothes are worn and so heating has to be raised accordingly.

There must be a whole generation growing up who wear similar clothes summer and winter and alter the temperature of their environment rather than change their clothing to suit the season. Of course its not just work places that are being heated to higher temperatures, the internal temperature of many homes has risen over the last few decades. An interesting statistic I found in the book "How We Can Save the Planet" by Mayer Hillman is that in the 1970s the average internal temperature of homes ( in the UK ) was 13C compared to an average of 19C today. That is a huge increase in just 30 years.

Perhaps now that energy prices are rising there will be a return to more comfortably heated buildings.