Saturday, 28 February 2009

Bringing spring inside

The bright yellow flowers of Forsythia will soon be seen in many gardens.  It seems to be a very popular shrub, perhaps its because it is in bloom when people start visiting garden centres at the start of spring - instant colour!  It also roots very easily, I have three plants all originally from a piece from a neighbour's garden.

At the moment the bushes are still bare, these flowers are on some twigs I cut about two weeks ago and brought into the warmth of the house.  I like watching the flowers open and seeing the fresh green leaves.

My mother always brought bits and pieces in from the garden in spring and now I do as well, cheaper than buying flowers and more interesting to look at.

I also pick a few daffodils so that when they are still in tight bud outside,

I have just a few in flower in the house.

Lets hope that the mild weather continues for a while and we will soon have spring flowers in the garden as well.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A quiet week

The snowdrops in the woods near here have been lovely this year.  Perhaps its because spring is late and they are almost the only flowers in bloom at that we appreciate them more.

The bulbs in the garden are also late.  My "February Gold" daffodils will not be showing any yellow this year until March.

I am having a very quiet week.  My husband is in the States again, younger son is back at school after half-term, work experience and snow days and my elder son is working evening shifts all week.  During waking hours there are only ever two of us home at the same time.

Its a good time to be at home, finishing off a few jobs round the house and finding time to plan the allotment crops and start some planting. 

I took these photos at the weekend, playing around with the reflections of the sky in the lake.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A Farm for the Future

I watched A Farm for the Future last night (part of the BBC Natural World series) which looked at UK agriculture and its dependence on fossil fuels. Although there wasn't much new information it was a very good summary of the problems that we will face as the supply of oil runs out.

One thing I hadn't realised was the damage done to soil by ploughing year after year. Although land has been ploughed for thousands of years the damage has only occurred on a large scale as mechanisation has increased, more efficient ploughing means more efficient destruction of the soil wildlife and bacteria as the soil is turned and exposed to light and air. I was struck by a film of a tractor ploughing around thirty years ago when it was followed by flocks of birds picking up worms and insects and another film of ploughing taking place today, no birds follow the tractors now because there is so little life in the soil.  I remember seeing seagulls following tractors when I was small, but I hadn't really noticed that it didn't happen any more.  How sad, and bad news for food production too.

I was thinking about the program when I was out for a walk this afternoon, lots of the fields were freshly ploughed.

The program was not all doom and gloom though and there were some good examples of working with nature instead of against it such as very productive forest gardens producing huge crops from a small space. It makes me want to cram even more into my small garden.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Curry recipe

I promised to write down my curry recipe after mentioning potato and chick pea curry in my last post.

Although I like to make an effort and follow recipes occasionally, most of my day to day cooking is very simply assembling the ingredients I have to hand to make something tasty.  I mention this because my "curry" is nothing like a traditional curry.

Potato, chickpea and spinach curry.
This is the quantity I made last weekend, would serve three to four.
  • one onion, chopped
  • curry paste
  • potatoes (about two medium ones per person - more for teenagers!)
  • one or two cans chickpeas 
  • half jar of passata = 250 ml
  • individual sachet of creamed coconut = 50g
  • couple of handfuls of spinach roughly chopped 

First,  gently fry the chopped onion in olive oil for around five minutes until soft then stir in the curry paste and cook for a further couple of minutes. The amount of curry paste depends on how you like your curry, my husband is not that keen on spicy food so I use Korma curry paste which I think goes well with the coconut.

While the onions are cooking, cook the peeled chopped potatoes in salted water until beginning to soften.  Partly cooking the potatoes before adding them to the curry cuts down on the total cooking time.

Add the potatoes and the passata to the onions and simmer for about ten minutes.

Next add the sachet of coconut and continue cooking for five minutes until the coconut has melted. Stir well.  The sauce should now have thickened.

I add the spinach at the end and continue cooking for just a few minutes so its wilted rather than stewed to death!

That it.  We like to eat Nan bread with ours to make sure we can get at every last bit of sauce.

I adapt this basic recipe quite a bit.  This is the winter version.  I've made it with butternut squash in the autumn and with courgettes and peppers in the summer.  It is very economical, this time I bought everything except the spinach beet but it still worked out at only about £2.50 or just under 70p per person.  

Saturday, 14 February 2009

A day in my life

It is now a year since Jenny started this project and this month she posts  her twelfth and final day in my life post. I joined in a month late and so for me this is post number eleven.  Although the project is coming to a close I have decided to continue posting my own "a day in my life" once a month. I'm not sure that the details of my life are of much interest to anyone other than me so please just humour me as I turn out one of these each month for the foreseeable future! 

No alarm clock this morning so we had the luxury of being woken up by daylight instead of a loud buzzing noise. Dawn here is around 7:ooam at the moment. It was a lovely morning bright sunlight and blue sky, perfect for catching up with the washing. 

Two loads of washing today and I hand washed some hand knitted jumpers as well. Its good to be able to catch up with the laundry, the weather has not been good for drying washing recently and so I am a bit behind.

Youngest son had a match early this afternoon so we had a very early lunch.  In an effort to minimise the number of journeys and miles I drive, I combined taking him to his match, with a walk with my eldest son and a quick trip to the supermarket.

National Trust properties are opening around here this weekend (the first of half-term) and today we visited Basildon Park.  The house doesn't open until later in the season but we could walk around the garden and estate.

The house was used in the filming of Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 film), it was Netherfield Hall, Mr Bingleys residence.

The house is very impressive. I am always amazed by the amount of work and details in these houses. The photo below shows the carved ceiling at the top of the entrance staicase, I wonder how many of the visitors to the house paused to look up at the ceiling, such a lot of work that may have gone unnoticed.

I also spotted this blend of old and new, an old lamp fitted with an energy saving lamp bulb.

There wasn't much in flower in the garden.  The recent cold weather has certainly held the spring back this year but there were flowers on the viburnum bush and a few clumps of cyclamen.  Milder weather is forecast for the next week so I am sure the spring bulbs will catch up.

After our walk it was shopping and then home with a tired teenager.  

Dinner was potato, chickpea and spinach curry with naan, simple and inexpensive and eaten before I had a chance to reach for my camera!

This evening I phoned my parents and sat down at the computer to write this.

So thats it, the end of a years "day in my life" posts. I have enjoyed reading the different posts written by bloggers all over the world, a snapshot of how we spend our days.


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Wild weather

The snow has all but disappeared and all we have left in the garden are the rather sad looking remains of our snowman.

It rained heavily at the beginning of the week and this together with the snow melting means that there is a lot of flooding.  The poor chickens, they didn't like the snow last week and now this week they find their home is in the middle of a puddle.

Many roads were impassable yesterday which meant a lot of driving trying to find alternative routes to get my younger son to his work experience placement and my older son to work.  The water levels fell last night and most of the roads are clear now although the rivers are still high.

I took this photograph of the River Thames this morning, I didn't think I'd sit on the bench today!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Snow week

Compared with the amount of snow regularly falling in parts of the world, our area seems to have really struggled to cope with the snow.  After our two snow days on Monday and Tuesday, we were back to normal on Wednesday. Then on Thursday we woke up to more snow and we were all at home again.  This morning I have been checking the websites for school closures and listening to the travel news and it is to be another day at home.  Our council is one of the ones running low on salt and grit for the roads so I'm pleased not to have to venture out in my little car.

We have been enjoying some local walks though.  The roads are icy and slippery but walking through the woods is fine although very wet and soggy. The pond in the picture below has water lilies in the summer but now it is frozen with the little islands all surrounded by ice.  Its a pity the ice is so thin, it would have been fun to walk out and explore.

I've been using the snow days to  have a good tidy.  I have more time in my day when I am not giving lifts to the boys to school, work and sports training. It is surprising how much time these  journeys take up.  

It is raining now as I write so the snow will probably soon be gone (but then I said that on Tuesday!) so I'll make the most of today.

The chickens really don't like the snow and have been looking quite miserable, if its possible for a chicken to have a sad face.  I wondered if they were missing eating grass so I rolled a snowball round the lawn to clear a patch and they followed behind me clucking excitedly. Grass must taste better than the cabbage leaves I've been giving them instead. 

Hope everyone is keeping safe in the wintry weather.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snow days

A few photos from our snow days.  Yes, we have had two days of school closure here.  Yesterday we had around four inches of snow, not a large amount but enough to cause disruption to travel so all four of us were at home.

We walked in the woods near our house.  Everything was very quiet, even the birds seemed to have disappeared.

Our chickens didn't seem to like the snow.  The door from their run to the garden was open but they chose to remain inside all day.

Today, the weather is very changeable, sunshine, light snow, heavy snow flurries, hail stones but the temperature is just above zero and I think life will be returning to normal tomorrow.

Over the last two days we have been able to stay at home and avoid all the travel problems. It has been a pleasant quiet break from our usual routine.

There is definitely something very peaceful about a snowy scene.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Mussel soup

February is an in between sort of month.  January is the start of the year and feels as if it is a time to make changes and New Years resolutions and March is the start of spring with the countryside bursting into life.  February is in the middle, winter is passing but hasn't finished yet and spring hasn't really started, perhaps February should be marked out as a month just to enjoy as it is without making any great plans.

One good thing about February,along with all the winter months, is that it has an "r" in the month (two "r"s in fact) which means that we can eat mussels.

The reason behind the "r in the month" rule is mainly that mussels spawn in the warmer months of the year and avoiding eating them at this time helps to keep stocks replenished.  Also after spawning they have lower body weight and so there is less meat content per number of mussels.  There is also a link between warmer water temperatures and higher levels of bacterial contamination of mussels but if clean unbroken mussels are correctly prepared there is little danger to health.

With so much overfishing there are many species of fish that we should not be eating but mussels are plentiful and can be eaten with a clear conscience especially if they are rope grown, dredging the seabed is not good for wildlife.

We love mussels and I usually cook them very simply in white wine or cider with shallots but this weekend while shopping in Waitrose I noticed that the February issue of Waitrose Food Illustrated has a recipe for Carrot and Mussel soup. I did think twice about trying this recipe as carrots and mussels are a combination that I would never have thought of, but its always a good idea to try something new and I followed the recipe to the letter - its brilliant.

I looked on the website to try to link to the recipe but the featured magazine is still January's, I'll check back in a couple of days and see if it is updated and I can find the recipe.

Until then a brief summary ....
The mussels are steamed in white wine and left until cool enough to handle.  Two thirds are removed from their shells and these together with the remaining ones in shell are put aside to add to the soup.
Finely sliced carrots and shallots are cooked in a covered pan with stock, unsalted butter and a teaspoon each of salt and sugar
The liquid from cooking the mussels is added to the carrot mixture together with more stock and creme fraiche and brought to the boil. The mussels are then added to heat through.

The finished soup looked lovely although mine doesn't look as good as the photo on the front of the magazine.  

It is a lovely creamy soup and the carrots make it quite sweet.  I still like my mussels cooked simply in cider with lots of crusty granary bread to soak up the juices but I will be cooking this recipe again.  

So, if you find yourself in Waitrose looking at the photo on the front of the magazine and wondering if mussels really do go with carrots, try it and see, somewhat surprisingly the combination works very well. A perfect supper for the "r" months.