Monday, 13 November 2017

more apples ...

Here we are nearly half way through November. Bonfire night has come and gone.
Did you celebrate?
We  had a few sparklers in the garden with Tiny Girlie and warmed ourselves with soup and jacket potatoes.
Then cosied up in front of a log fire and ate chestnuts roasted in the embers.

Oh and cake.
There was more cake. Made from more apples.

A simple, rustic style cake, with apples, walnuts and raisins ...

fragrant with cinnamon and ginger.

Winter is tightening her grip on the weather. Today has been so cold.
There is even talk of a white Christmas.
We shall see!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A gift of apples...

Mr digandweed arrived home the other evening with a big bagful of apples ; a gift from a colleague, from their garden.
 Beautiful, rosy cheeked cooking apples, just waiting to be turned into something delicious .

I immediately had in mind a recipe for a luscious cinnamon apple butter; a recipe that my sister made a couple of years ago, from a book called Perfect Preserves:Maggie Mayhew.
Apple butter is a thick spread made from cooked pureed apples, cider, cinnamon and sugar.

Apple and cinnamon are a match made in heaven and apple butter seems to encapsulate the essence of Autumn.
It is also relatively straightforward to make. There is no worry over whether it has reached setting point, since the pureed apple and sugar are simply bubbled away until a good spoonable consistency is reached.

Spread it thickly on hot buttered toast or scones and enjoy!

Today is the last day of October, the clocks have gone back and Bonfire night is looming.
How did all that happen?!
Hope you are enjoying these last autumn days.


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Autumn celebrations.

Some things in life remain a mystery - such as why the beetroot on the allotment were a dismal failure this year!
Poor germination and diddly squat growth meant that these two beetroot were virtually the sum total of the harvest.

But augmented by some extra beetroot and red cabbage from the shop, I was able to make Borscht, one of my favourite autumnal soups .
A quick 'google' reveals numerous recipes for this well known soup.... and opens a Pandora's box as regards its origin and list of ingredients;
is it Polish or Russian, should it include meat of some sort or be purely vegetable based?
I will leave you to make your own mind up!

In the end, shunning any meat content, my recipe included equal amounts of grated raw beetroot and red cabbage (about 500g each, reserve a little of the beetroot for decoration later) with one grated red onion and one carrot , all lightly sauted in butter before being simmered in a well flavoured vegetable stock until tender. Add a small amount of tomato puree and red wine vinegar to taste, season with salt and pepper then blend.
I like to serve this with a spoonful of yoghurt mixed with a small amount of creamed horseradish and topped with a little of the reserved beetroot for decoration.

Earlier in the week, Tiny Girlie, her mama and I were on a mission to find a pumpkin patch, in order to celebrate this most autumnal of vegetables.
A drive across the wide open fields of the Fens proved fruitless, until we stumbled upon a PYO farm  just a few miles from here.
Here, we found pumpkins, squash and gourds of every description, plus a lovely farm shop ...and tea and home made cake!
It took a while to decide upon the perfect pumpkin ...

But having selected one, we also picked sweetcorn for our tea and said hello to the friendly scarecrow.

We are going to carve smiley faces on the larger pumpkins.
Though I'm not a fan of Halloween, decorating the house with these lovely vegetables seems a fitting way to celebrate the beauty and bounty of Autumn.

Hoping you are enjoying this wonderful season too.


Sunday, 1 October 2017


October is such a beautiful month; a month of golden hues, of cocoa-coloured nuts and conkers, russet tinged apples and pears.
This time a year ago, dear daughter had just had her first round of chemotherapy and so it was fitting that, on Friday evening, a year on, we both took part in Maggie's culture crawl, a night-time sponsored walk around the city of Nottingham to raise money for this wonderful charity.

The photo below is of the iconic library building on the Nottingham University Jubilee campus and was just one of the places we visited.

We had a wonderful fun filled evening, walking through parts of the city not usually accessible at night, in the company of lots of other lovely people and entertained along the way by musicians and actors explaining the history of various buildings - and not to mention sustained by some delicious food!

Meanwhile, back on the lottie, I have harvested the Butternut squash.

I grew several plants from seeds that I saved from last year.
I have always found the squash to be a reliable crop, despite our sometimes unpredictable summers... and also extremely versatile in the kitchen.
Amongst other things, squash make delicious soups.

Recipe adapted from Roasted Butternut Squash Soup: New Covent Garden Book of Soups.

Here's to a cosy week ahead full of autumnal colours.


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Lately ....

If we were hoping for an Indian Summer, then so far this month we have been disappointed.
The weather has turned decidedly autumnal.
Nevertheless, last week, optimists that we are, mr digandweed and I booked a beach hut at Wells next the Sea for the day.

Don't be fooled by these photos - the wind was very cold and the day was peppered by heavy storms!
Unsurprisingly, we had the beach more or less to ourselves.

But the inside of the beach hut was cosy and it was lovely being able to retreat inside and make a cup of tea.

Apart from a windswept time at the beach, there have also been some blustery walks through local woods.
At the end of this month, I am joining dear daughter on a 10 mile sponsored walk around the city of Nottingham in aid of Maggie's, so I am getting in some practice. 

Maggie's is a nationwide charity providing help and support for people with cancer.
They are beautiful, individually designed buildings situated within hospital grounds providing a 'home from home' away from the hospital ward.

When dear daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma this time last year, we were very grateful to have a Maggie's centre on the Nottingham campus.
They provided our daughter with financial advice, as well as support regarding hair loss and also put her in touch with another young woman going through the same thing.
During the long hours of chemotherapy ( 7 hours at a time), it was a lovely friendly place for me to pop into. 
There was always a warm welcome, a cup of tea and a place to eat my sandwiches around the kitchen table which forms the heart of every Maggie's centre.
A wonderful charity.

And back in the kitchen at home, I have been baking.
On a cold, autumnal afternoon, cake and tea is what you need!
This is a cake I made the other day: a sponge cake rippled with blackcurrant puree and baked in a bundt tin.

Hoping the week ahead is a good one for you.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

woodland walks and wild berries

It's September.
One of my most favourite times of year -
season of mists and mellow fruitfulness :John Keats
And as if on cue, this morning we woke to a heavy dew and mist hanging low across the fields.

These are photos taken on a walk that mr digandweed and I did the other day through Fineshade woods.

Often days that start off misty, turn into wonderful, warm and sunny Autumn days.
There's nothing nicer than seeing the array of seed heads, berries and hips that adorn the hedges.

And the most delicious of all, of course, the humble bramble.
Mr digandweed is a useful companion when blackberrying as he is able, due to his height, to reach the biggest, juiciest berries which would normally be out of reach.

It's no coincidence that apples and blackberries ripen at the same time, for what better combination could there be ?

A rosy red apple, baked in the oven and served with stewed blackberries and yoghurt makes the most delicious breakfast.

One of September's little pleasures!


Saturday, 19 August 2017

the late summer garden

 August is coming to an end and the heat of a few weeks ago has dissipated. There is a hint of Autumn in the air.
 Not that I mind. I like the onset of Autumn
My pale skin  means I have never enjoyed extreme heat. The gentle warmth of Spring and Autumn are much more my thing.

In the garden, there are signs of the changing seasons. The fresh lush green growth of Spring has faded. In its place come russets and browns. The odd crinkly brown leaf, a withered stem, indicators of what is to come.

And on the allotment, the Rosette apples are ready to pick.
A delicious, crisp, sweet eating apple.
They are not perfect specimens, it has to be said, but what's a blemish or two between friends!

The plums, other than those that have been transformed into jam or tucked up in the freezer have been consumed.
My breakfast for the past week or so has been softly stewed plums with creamy yoghurt, a sprinkle of nuts and seeds and a drizzle of maple syrup.

The past couple of weeks have been very busy.
Aside from tending the garden and lottie, we have been helping lovely daughter and her husband move house.
 I have been on duty helping to pack, clean.
Mr digandweed was allocated the important job of entertaining Tiny Girlie and keeping her out of mischief!

I'm looking forward to a slightly quieter week ahead!
Hoping your week is a good one.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

river cottage plum jam

Plums -  after last year's massive harvest I was expecting a smaller yield this time round.
The tree on our allotment is only small, barely taller than I am, but once again it has produced a huge amount of fruit.
 70 lbs at a conservative estimate.
They are delicious, but there's only a certain amount of plums a person can eat. 
The carefully staged photo below belies the true situation.
I will admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fruit.

Mr digandweed, laden with bags, has been knocking on neighbours' doors plying them with plums.
Lovely daughter took more bagfuls to her Nature Play group.
 The freezer is crammed with plums; the fridge with plum compote.
It has become obligatory to eat plums at every meal!

So it was time to get out the preserving pan and start some serious jam making.
This year for a change I tried the River Cottage recipe from the River Cottage Preserves handbook.
Plum jam is one of my favourites.
Easy to make, as the good quantities of natural pectin produce a reliable set and delicious to eat.

The ratio was 1.5kg of plums to 1.25kg sugar.
And the yield  8 x 340g  jars.

The jam is now safely stowed away in the cupboard and spread on hot buttered toast in the winter months to come, will be a delicious reminder of summer.

Have a happy weekend!


Sunday, 16 July 2017

water kefir.... or another foray into fermentation.

It was lovely daughter who first introduced me to water kefir, the slightly carbonated fermented drink which is full of beneficial probiotics.
Like many fermented foods, its origin is uncertain but it has probably been consumed in certain countries such as Mexico and Tibet for centuries.
Making water kefir at home is simple, though initially you do need some water kefir grains.
The term water kefir grains is a slight misnomer, as they are not actually grains, but resemble jelly- like crystals.
The grains are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts, which when fed with sugar and water produce the beneficial drink.

There seem to be different methods for making the kefir and this website has lots of interesting information, but the method I used was as follows:
Place 4 tablespoons of water kefir grains, 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 800ml water into a clean kilner jar (or similar).
Stir, cover with a cloth, (but do not close the lid) and leave on the worktop for 48 hours during which time the liquid should start to ferment and may bubble slightly.
After this time, strain, reserving the liquid and place the water kefir grains into a small jar, cover with water, add a teaspoon of sugar to feed them, place the lid onto jar and store in the fridge ready for next time.
The reserved liquid will be quite sweet at this point.
It is now time for the second fermentation,which is best done in a flip top bottle.
So pour the liquid into a suitable bottle and again leave on the worktop for 24 to 48 hours.

 During this stage the bacteria feed on the sugars;
the liquid becomes cloudy, more carbonated and far less sweet.
It is important to 'burp' the bottle from time to time by gently opening the lid, otherwise when the lid is finally released the contents will spray in a huge fountain covering walls, floors and yourself with precious liquid!
I speak from experience!

During the second fermentation, you can flavour the water kefir with lemon rind and pieces of root ginger which can be placed in the bottle, alternatively it can be flavoured by adding ingredients afterwards.
Having tried both methods, I think the latter is probably preferable as each drink can be flavoured in a different way.
For example, lemon, lime or fruit juice can be added to the glass and then topped up with water kefir.

Unflavoured, the water kefir is an acquired taste, rather like a cross between flat lemonade and ginger beer, but it becomes more interesting when flavoured.
I'm definitely a 'newbie' when it comes to fermentation but it's a very interesting subject.

Friday, 7 July 2017

early morning ...

To beat the heat and keep up with watering on the lottie, mr digandweed and I made a plan-
we get up early and arrive at the allotment before the world is barely awake.
Now, I appreciate this is not everyone's idea of fun, but for me ( and mr d) early morning is the best time of day!
Quite often we are the first and only people there. We climb over the main gate, (having forgotten the key yet again) and walk down the path, sheltered by the hedge, to our plot.
The peace and quiet envelop us. Between us we water everything with just birdsong for company.
The plants are grateful for their early morning drink.
There is plenty to harvest. Although the strawberries have finished (just an average crop this year, though still delicious) there are still bowlfuls of glistening blackcurrants.
Some of the bright berries bounce to the ground as I reach into the bush to pick them. I leave those for the birds, there are plenty more for us.

There are gooseberries too; green ones and red ones. This year, some of the sweetest, juiciest red gooseberries I've ever tasted. There is Swiss chard to pick, broad beans and the first of the climbing beans. The butternut squash are romping away and the plum and apple trees are heavy with young fruit. Only the beetroot have let the side down. Despite sowing a couple of rows and for reasons beyond me only one or two have germinated.
With a basket full of produce, we return home to a cup of tea and breakfast.

This year, in an attempt to cut down on sugar consumption, I decided to make a puree with the blackcurrants rather than jam.
I lightly cooked the berries in the microwave with a drop of water, then sieved them and sweetened with a tiny amount of vanilla sugar.
The resulting sauce is full of fresh blackcurrant flavour and is delicious stirred into any number of things.
A favourite at the moment is spooned over creamy yoghurt for breakfast.
The leftover puree also freezes well.

Since our homegrown beetroot are almost non existent, I bought a bunch of fresh beetroot from the shop and along with the broad beans from the allotment made a delicious salad.

The recipe, Shaved beetroot salad with peas, broad beans and dukkah, is another one from my favourite free magazine Waitrose food.
A link for the recipe is here.
In case, like me, you are wondering what Dukkah is, a quick google reveals it is a rather delicious spice blend which can be bought or just as easily made at home. A recipe can be found here.

Do give the recipe a try.
It is light,delicious and just right for a summer's day.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

afternoon tea..

'There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea'  Henry James A Portrait of a Lady.

I couldn't agree more.
The last few strawberries from the allotment, a slice of homemade cake and a cup of tea is more or less my idea of heaven!

Here is a cake perfect for an afternoon tea time treat.
Mary Berry's Crunchy Top Lemon Cake from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book.

A soft, fluffy cake with a pleasing hint of lemon and a crunchy top to add texture.

(I know there is a lot of sugar in this cake and sugar is one thing we all seem to be trying to reduce. But it is a tea time treat after all so I reckon it's allowed!)

Happy weekend one and all.