Thursday, 31 July 2008

Blue fields

A few weeks ago at the beginning of June, I posted pictures of the fields at the lower end of the village looking like lakes after heavy rain.

The flooding quickly went down but as I was passing earlier this week the fields once again looked like lakes but this time because of the lovely blue flowers of the linseed (flax) that was growing.

The picture doesn't really show just how blue the fields appear, blue seems to be a difficult colour to capture in a photograph. It really is a very pretty crop.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Summer soup

Soup is something I don't make much when the weather is warm but watercress soup is an exception as it is quite a light summer soup. I often use American land cress which I have grown on the allotment instead of buying watercress. It is similar to watercress but has a stronger flavour being hotter and more peppery.

I sowed some land cress many years ago and let it go to seed and now I never need to sow it as there are always enough self sown plants around. Each year I make sure to leave a few clumps to go to seed so that I know I will have plants for the following year. In fact, it seems to grow better if left to seed by itself than when I have planted it!

The soup I make is very simple. I saute chopped onions in olive oil. When they are translucent but not browned I add garlic, cubed potatoes and chicken stock (or vegetable stock) and simmer until the potatoes are almost soft. The land cress (a couple of handfuls/litre) is added about five minutes before the end of cooking. Once the potatoes are soft and the land cress is wilted I use a blender to make a smooth soup. I like to have the cress chopped but still visible as green flecks in the finished soup.

We have been having salad for lunch most days recently and so this weekend soup was a welcome change.

Friday, 25 July 2008

At the allotment

When I was buying my vegetable seeds earlier this year I decided to buy a packet of flower seeds to add a bit of colour to the plot and to attract bees. I couldn't decide what to choose and in the end bought a packet of mixed seeds called North American mix. I planted a couple of short rows (with some dwarf french beans between them) and they are flowering now.

A large proportion of the mix seems to be Californian poppies but there are some other interesting flowers as well.

The edible side of the allotment is growing well as we move through the season. This week we had the last of the mangetout and also the last picking of the rhubarb. I will make sure the rhubarb now gets plenty compost to feed it ready for the winter.

I have been harvesting my dwarf french beans and there is a very good crop on each plant. As I made three plantings a few weeks apart we should have beans throughout the rest of the summer.

I have been picking blackcurrants again. I have two bushes ripening at the moment. I don't know the name as I bought them as cuttings from a village plant fair but I think they might be quite an old variety. With my early blackcurrant bush, the berries all ripen within a short space of time and I know modern commercial varieties are bred for this characteristic as it makes for more efficient picking. Old fashioned cottage garden varieties used to ripen slowly over a few weeks, more convenient for the house-wife who got a steady supply of ripe berries but not good commercially when the whole crop needs to be picked as quickly as possible for processing.

These two bushes have berries at a range of ripeness so we will have fresh blackcurrants for a while yet.

The sad story of this years courgettes continues. After all the first plants were devoured by slugs, the second batch have been trying to catch up. My neighbours have been picking courgettes for weeks and I have been really pleased when walking towards my allotment to see the bright yellow flowers. However all the flowers so far have been, without exception, like this one - male flowers!

I am beginning to wonder if I am actually going to taste a homegrown courgette this season.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

A quiet morning

This morning I was in a rush to buy birthday cards. I had forgotten that my nephews who both have birthdays next week would be away on holiday on their birthdays. I had to post the cards today so that hopefully they will get them before they leave. I walked down to the post office as soon as it opened and chose the cards. I then looked round for somewhere to sit to write them so that I could post them straight away. I found the perfect place.

This open space in the village is called the Fairground after the horse fairs that were held here twice a year before the First World War. It is a lovely large open space to have in the middle of the village, and perfect for quietly writing cards!

Perhaps because it was quite early there was hardly anyone about this morning even though it was the first day of the school holidays.

After writing the cards I looked at the village ponds. We have two ponds and the water level was low in both of them despite the rain we've had this summer.

The second pond had slightly more water but still not much. Early last century this pond was much larger and during severe winters used to freeze completely and be very popular for skating. It would be a bit small for skating now but then we don't really get winters that are cold enough for it to freeze solid enough for skating anymore.

As I was taking these photographs I realised that I have never really taken any pictures of the village. If I visit somewhere new I always take lots of photographs but because I see my immediate surroundings every day I don't really think about recording them.

So, a couple more photographs,
the cricket pitch

and a nice shady seat underneath an oak tree close to the ponds.

I think I might make a little photographic record of the village this summer. If I'd been a bit more organised and bought those birthday cards in plenty of time I would have missed out on this pleasant wander around a corner of the village.

Sunday, 20 July 2008


I worked my last day of this term last Friday and now I've got just over six weeks without working. I still get that end of term feeling that I did when I was a child as the weeks seem to stretch out in front of me for ever. Its not quite the same as an adult though, there are all the grown up things that need to be done, all the cooking, washing and cleaning still has to be fitted in but right now at the beginning of the holiday I forget that for a while and just enjoy the thought of all the free time.

I took a notebook and a cup of coffee out into the garden this morning and made a list of all the things I could do.

  • There is always plenty to do at the allotment but I am going to try and tidy up the garden a bit as well.

  • Some of our cushions are looking a bit tired and one cover has actually worn so thin that a hole is developing so that seems like a nice simple knitting project, probably something I could do while watching a film with the boys, we have got together half a dozen DVDs that we've been saving for the summer.

  • I think I might do some spinning as well, I have a lovely Shetland fleece that has been waiting for when I have some spare time so that will be another project - probably for a shawl.

  • Sorting out all the photos from my holiday will take ages as I have so many to sort through.

  • It will be a good opportunity to try out a few new recipes since I won't be rushing about so much.

Thats about as far as I got with the list so far but I am sure I will think of lots more to do as well as just spending time with the boys.

Today I spent most of the day outside. I picked my lavender and will put it in the shed to dry. I will also pick some sage to dry in the same way so that I can make my homemade "talc".

At the allotment I sowed some rocket and red oakleaf lettuce and harvested some sugarsnap peas and some french beans. Every thing needed a good water, the soil is very dry.

Back at home I sowed basil for the kitchen window sill and also some courgette seeds. It is very late to be starting courgettes but now that I have harvested my potatoes in pots I have space for a grow-bag against the wall of the house. I didn't know what to plant this late so thought I'd experiment and see if I could have courgettes a bit later into the autumn. The house wall is west facing and will offer some protection against early frosts. I'll wait and see what happens.

Time now to think about what I will do tomorrow. I'm already enjoying my summer holidays!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Holiday photos

Our holiday in Switzerland was brilliant. The trains, all the way from our village to London, then Paris, through France and Switzerland arriving in the village we were staying in, all ran exactly to time making the journey a real pleasure. As I have mentioned the decision to go by rail rather than fly was based on reducing the impact of our journey but it was lovely to travel through the countryside instead of over it and we would definitely do it again.

Switzerland itself was as beautiful as we imagined it would be. I took almost 500 photos during the week because everywhere I looked there was a perfect picture! Here are a few of my favourites.

We stayed in the Lauterbrunnen valley near Interlaken and these photographs were all taken within a few miles of there. It really was a beautiful place.

Monday, 14 July 2008

A day in my life - July

July is passing quickly and it is already the 14th and time for me to join in with "a day in my life".

This week is different for me as I am working an extra day to make up for one of the days I missed when I was on holiday last week. So this Monday was a work day instead of my usual tidy up after the weekend day.

I woke just after six and made a cup of tea. The boys were sleeping late as they have finished school so it was just the two of us getting up. I stripped our bed and put on a load of laundry, had breakfast and tidied the kitchen. Just before I left for work I hung the washing on the line and let the chickens out of their run into the garden.

My part time job is a science technician at the local secondary school. I've worked there for several years and it has been a very convenient job to fit around the boys as they were growing up. It also has the advantage of being less than two miles from home so I have a very short commute! Today was quite busy trialling some experiments for the sixth form for next term and the day passed quickly.

By half past three I was home. The boys were watching a film and didn't want to be disturbed so I took a cup of tea out into the garden and talked to the chickens instead. As I sat on the bench one jumped up onto my lap and settled down for a snooze and the other stood on the back of the bench by my shoulder. They both seemed very contented making quiet little clucking noises. After a peaceful few minutes they jumped off to explore the garden once again and I took the dry laundry from the line and went inside.

There was time for a quick trip to the allotment before I started cooking dinner. There was a lot of rain here last week while we were away and the weeds have been growing fast. I did some weeding and then picked the last of the early blackcurrants and a few remaining redcurrants.

I also spread some compost round the courgettes. If I remember I take a bucket of compost from home to the allotment. As well as garden cuttings, weeds and vegetable peelings, we also add the straw from the chicken coop to the compost bin so it should be a good source of minerals. My courgettes are a bit late as the first lot got eaten by slugs and I had to start all over again but perhaps with a layer of compost they will soon catch up.

I picked a few mangetout for tea and then headed home to start cooking.

Tea was our version of kedgeree, smoked mackerel and chopped hard boiled eggs stirred into brown rice and topped with cheese sauce. I know that kedgeree doesn't usually come with cheese sauce but it is very tasty and a good way to make the meal more substantial for hungry teenagers.

While I cooked tea, I stewed the blackcurrants with sugar and then bottled them. These two jars are from today and bring the total from just one bush to 3 litres of bottled fruit. I have a couple of later varieties that will be ready to harvest in August.

After tea I cleared up the kitchen and disappeared upstairs to the computer to write this. I'm not working now until Thursday so I think I will spend a bit of time reading about other peoples days and put the rest of my chores off until tomorrow.

Jenny has listed other participants of "a day in my life" here.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

On holiday

We are all packed and ready to go on holiday. We leave this afternoon for our holiday in Switzerland. No long distance travel is particularly green but we have chosen to travel by train rather than flying to reduce the impact on the environment and I also think it will be more fun.
We leave for London this evening, then a very early train to Paris on Friday giving us a full day to explore, followed by another early train across to Switzerland on Saturday. Once there I am looking forward to a week of fresh air, lots of walking and beautiful scenery plus of course Swiss chocolate!
Back in a week with lots of photos.