Sunday, 23 April 2017

Lately on the lottie - April end ...


Mr digandweed and I spent a couple of hours sprucing up the allotment the other day.
I love it when the grass paths are freshly cut.
Everything is looking green and healthy, weeds included!
The plum blossom has gone over now. Last year the plum harvest was a bumper one. Sometimes it seems that the tree takes the following year to recover, so we will wait and see what this year's crop is like.
Lots of beautiful blossom on the apple tree too.
( The beautifully tilled earth beyond the plum tree is our neighbour's plot.)


I planted up a new bed of strawberry plants, as some of the original plants are about 5 years old and didn't fruit very well last year. But I now can't bring myself to pull up the old plants!
I'm also having a bit of an issue with the raspberry canes.
When we planted them about 3 years ago, I had no idea how invasive they would become. 
Despite digging out some of the runners the other week, yet more have appeared. They pop up all over the place, sometimes several feet away from the original canes.
What to do?!
Though they are delicious, I am seriously considering removing them altogether.

This is a busy time of year on the allotment, with seed sowing, planting and weeding to be done
.... and watering. 
So far this year Spring has been very dry and cracks are already appearing in the ground.




I pulled a few sticks of rhubarb to bring home.
And if you have rhubarb, you have to make crumble.

Gooey and crumbly - the perfect comfort food!





The sun is out.
I shall make a cup of tea and sit in the garden awhile.

Happy weekend one and all!


annjenny
x

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter-time




The weather has been beautiful. New life is everywhere.
The garden is blooming.
and on the allotment, there are buds, blossom and green shoots.





I made a cake for the Easter weekend. You have to have cake at Easter!
Not a chocolate one this year, but a pistachio and rose polenta cake.
It's a fairly straightforward cake to make, packed with pistachios and ground almonds.
I cannot comment on the taste though until we have cut into it and that will have to wait till tomorrow!


We are having a lovely family weekend, with all my little 'chicks' at home here.
Hoping you have good plans too.



Wishing you all a very happy Easter-time.

annjenny
x


Saturday, 1 April 2017

April ... and some thoughts past and present.


The month of March seemed to disappear in a flash and here we are in April.



The last few days of March seemed like summer in this corner of the Fens with the temperature reaching an unseasonal 20c on one of the days.
Mr digandweed and I took a trip down to the allotment.
This month marks 6 years of having our allotment and 5 years writing this little blog!
How time flies!
One of the jobs on the lottie  to-do-list was the re-painting of the shed.
It is 6 years since lovely younger daughter first painted it for us and wind and rain had taken its toll.

It seems that at Easter in 2011 when the photo below was originally taken we were also enjoying beautiful weather.


A lot has happened in the intervening years. 
Lovely older daughter got married and now is a mama herself.
Dear younger daughter gained a Masters in occupational therapy and now works with mental health patients.
Last year, of course, was a very worrying time for us with younger daughter's illness but she is recovering extremely well. 
She is back at work full time.  Her beautiful auburn hair is starting to re-grow and it turns out that a short pixie haircut really suits her!

With health and diet still very upper most in my mind and with encouragement from older daughter, I have been experimenting with fermented vegetables.

Why the recent interest in fermented foods?
Well, fermenting as a way of preserving is not new and the process is probably thousands of years old.
But as well as preserving food, lacto-fermentation produces beneficial bacteria or probiotics, which are good for the digestive system and enhance the immune system ... plus fermented foods taste good!
They often have that elusive sour/salty flavour, the so-called fifth flavour - umami.

For more information, I found this article straightforward and informative.


The recipe I followed for Pink Chilli Kraut is from HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY and provides, I think, a simple introduction to the art of fermentation.


Pink Chilli Kraut

recipe from Hemsley and Hemsley

Makes a 1itre jar

1.5 kg red cabbage, finely shredded
3 cloves garlic, sliced
30g root ginger,grated
1 tablespoon sea salt

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and retain for later.
Shred the remaining leaves fairly finely.
Put the cabbage plus the other ingredients into a large mixing bowl and wearing rubber gloves give everything a good squeeze for several minutes.
Leave for a minute or two and then squeeze everything again.
The aim is to produce a good amount of cabbage juice which with the salt should create a good brine.
Pack the mixture into a sterilised jar, pushing it well down until the cabbage is submerged in the brine by at least 2 cm.
If there is not enough brine, add 1-2 tablespoons of water and give the jar a little shake.
Roll up the reserved cabbage leaves and place on top of the cabbage to ensure it remains submerged. This is very important as any exposed cabbage could start to encourage bad bacteria.
Seal the jar with its sterilised lid and leave at room temperature.
After a few days ( mine took about 3 days in a warm kitchen) fermentation should be complete.
Transfer to the fridge and enjoy as a delicious condiment.
Remember to use a clean spoon each time you remove some kraut from the jar so as not to introduce bad bacteria.



I found the kraut quite addictive and a delicious addition to lots of meals, from salads to sandwiches, but one word of warning - if you are not used to eating fermented foods just start with small amounts at a time.
Anymore can result in stomach cramps as I found out to my dismay!

This is just a start on my journey of food fermenting. Has anyone else tried - do tell!

Happy weekend!

annjenny
x



Saturday, 18 March 2017

wild harvests.


These last few weeks, signs of Spring have been everywhere.
We have had days as warm as any summer's day when coats have been discarded and it has been a pleasure to slowly amble along on a walk feeling the sun warming the skin.


Then just as suddenly, a day or two later, it seemed that winter returned and gloves, scarves and boots were pulled back on.

Older daughter had an idea to go foraging for some wild harvests.
Now is the perfect time to collect young nettles and wild garlic.
I am an anxious forager, fearing disaster at every turn, but nettles with their fierce sting and garlic with its distinctive smell are easily identifiable!
So armed with gloves and a bag, we sought out some doggie - free areas. 
Nettles are abundant everywhere and we quickly picked a bag full of nettle tops.
Tiny Girlie only got as far as putting on gloves which was probably just as well. She can already identify nettles having had some nasty stings on her knee during one of her many outdoor escapades with her Mama.
I have to admire our daughter and her husband. They take their tiny toddler on numerous nature adventures.
There is nothing she loves more than squelching through mud, playing with sticks, admiring a stone, a bud, a flower.
As a result, at the age of barely two and a half, she knows the names of an impressive array of natural features.

She probably also has a very developed immune system.
Back in the 80s when our daughters were babies, it seemed that everything had to be cleaned and sterile. 
Consequently, I doused cups, plates, spoons, toys, work surfaces, practically everything in a solution of Milton and wouldn't let either of them within a mile of anything muddy!
Now, numerous studies have shown that some dirt is good for toddlers in developing a good immune system.


Armed with our bag of nettle tops and some wild garlic ( from daughter's garden) we returned home with the idea of making pesto.
We gave the wild garlic and nettles a good wash in plenty of cold water (remember the rubber gloves!)  then blanched the nettles in boiling, salted water for a couple of minutes.
At this point, our bag of nettle tops had reduced down to one small fistful, which, rather like spinach, needed a good squeeze to remove excess water. Nettles lose their sting after being cooked.



The quantities were roughly as follows, but feel free to adapt to taste:
2 handfuls nettle tops
1 handful wild garlic
50 grams nuts ( I used a combination of pine nuts and pecans as this is what was in the cupboard)
50 grams Parmesan cheese
150-200 ml olive oil
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to season.



Lightly toast the nuts in a dry frying pan, then when cool, grind finely in a food processor.
Add the chopped wild garlic, nettle tops and Parmesan.
Blend, then add the oil gradually with the motor running until it reaches the desired consistency.
You may not need all the oil.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice and spoon into a sterilised jar. Cover with a thin layer of oil to act as a seal before putting on the lid.
The quantities made two small jars and it should keep in the fridge for a week or two.
Should you be interested, this article gives information on the nutritional value of nettles and further recipes and tips. 


The pesto turned out to be rather delicious and was met with approval by mr digandweed.
It has a definite garlic kick and was lovely with crackers and raw vegetable sticks, but would also make an excellent topping for soup or stirred through pasta for example.



annjenny
x


Saturday, 4 March 2017

The month of March


The month of March has arrived and with it comes Spring.
 The first day of Spring is 20th March, unless of course, you follow the meteorological seasons, in which case Spring arrived a few days ago on March 1st!
Either way, days are getting longer, birds are singing and buds are waiting to burst.



I spent a pleasant couple of hours on the allotment earlier in the week.
A quick inspection showed no damage from the recent gales, just a bit of routine tidying needed:  a light pruning of the gooseberry and lavender bushes, some weeding (as ever !) and a bit of an overhaul of the Autumn Bliss raspberry canes.
I cut each cane down to ground level and dug out some of the runners which were making a bid for freedom in an attempt to prevent the thicket which ensued last year.
We shall see!


Back home in the kitchen, a rummage in the vegetable basket, unearthed a couple of butternut squash left from last autumn and still in good condition.
Flicking through the latest edition of Waitrose Food, I had already spotted a recipe for warm winter salad with roast pepper dressing which looked interesting and squash was one of the ingredients required.


The roast pepper dressing was a simple whizz-in-the-blender task and produced enough tasty dressing for the salad and some to keep in the fridge as a useful addition for other salads or pasta etc.


The salad itself may not be particularly photogenic but I liked the combination of flavours - the buttery avocado, slightly bitter cabbage and the acidic tang of the dressing.
It made a fairly quick and simple supper.


Today, the sun is shining here and it feels very springlike in our sheltered garden.
I may even take a cup of tea outside and sit on the garden bench a while. 🌞

annjenny
x




Saturday, 25 February 2017

pancakes

Each year, when Pancake Day approaches, I ponder the same question : why don't I make pancakes more often!
They are quick, simple and very versatile.

Shrove Tuesday, as it is also known, always precedes Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, pancakes were a good way of using up eggs, milk and flour before the time of fasting during Lent.
Ironically, nowadays, retail marketing sees shops stock up with extra ingredients in an attempt to persuade the consumer to buy more in preparation for the annual pancake festival!


On the day itself, I don't think you can beat feather light pancakes eaten with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of sugar - totally delicious!
 But this year, I also decided to make a Dutch Baby; a large, puffed pancake which is thought to have originated in the USA.
Think sweet Yorkshire pudding.


Using the same batter as a traditional pancake, a Dutch baby is cooked in the oven rather than in a pan on the stove.


Rather like a souffle, the pancake rose up impressively in the oven, but then sank somewhat when removed, so make sure everyone is ready to tuck in straight away.
I served mine with a mixture of berries and a dusting of icing sugar.


If you would like to try making a Dutch Baby, I found this link very useful.

Happy Pancake Day!


annjenny
x



Saturday, 18 February 2017

cake

Last week on a bone chillingly cold day when mist hung low in the air, we made a little trip to the city of Ely.
A city because of its magnificent cathedral, the Ship Of The Fens, which can be seen for miles across the low lying land, but at heart a modest little market town.
We walked a while along the river Ouse before the cold had so numbed our feet and hands, that with a gasp of relief we darted into Ely antiques for a wander through three floors of curiosities.








By contrast, a few days later the sun made an appearance and since then we have been enjoying days of spring-like warmth. 
Such are the vagaries of the British weather! 

So to celebrate the imminent arrival of Spring, I made a cake.
 A reasonably healthy cake I like to think.



To be honest, this was a cake I had intended to make for Christmas, but with our girl being so poorly for the latter part of the year, festive preparations were much simplified.

However, the two packets of cooked chestnuts which I had bought to make the gluten free chestnut, chocolate and hazlenut cake  ( a recipe from the December issue of Waitrose Food) were still in the cupboard so I decided to give it a go.

I have to say that Chestnuts are not usually my thing. 
The fruit of the Sweet Chestnut tree (not to be confused with conkers, from the Horse Chestnut which are mildly poisonous) are very versatile and can be used in sweet and savoury dishes and even ground into a flour, useful for those on a gluten free diet.
In this recipe, however, they gave the cake a rich, moist texture.


What did surprise me was the amount of flavour provided by a relatively small amount of orange zest.
 If you like the famous Terry's Chocolate Orange - you know, the beautifully formed orange shaped confection that with one sharp tap separates into delectable chocolate segments (and I do) then you will love this!



Rich enough to feel like a 'celebration' cake yet not too cloying, this is a recipe I will definitely make again.


Hoping you have good plans for the weekend
 The rumour is that the mild weather is set to continue!

annjenny
x





Sunday, 12 February 2017

cookbook inspiration.


I know I am not alone in this. I have met other sufferers.
The truth is I have a serious cookbook addiction!
I have a pile of them by my bed and dip into them for a little bedtime reading or flick through them with my morning coffee.
I love the inspiration to be found within their pages and
this Christmas I was the happy recipient of another two to add to my collection.


Simple by Diana Henry and Abundance by Alys Fowler.
Two beautiful books.
This past week, I tried out a couple of recipes from Simple.
The first a recipe for carrot houmous.



from Diana Henry Simple.


I'm a big fan of houmous. It's great for a snack or part of a meal with lots of things to dunk into it.
I found this houmous improved after several hours or even overnight when the flavours had time to mellow.


To go with the houmous Diana suggests roasted tomatoes.
Place 8 halved plum tomatoes with cut side up onto a baking tray. Mix with 2tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp harissa paste and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1 tsp soft brown sugar before roasting at 190c for about 40 minutes until soft.


Delicious!

On another note, we were promised snow this weekend. Instead we have grey skies and rain.
Do you have snow?
If so, please send some this way. Not a lot, you understand.
Just enough to make things look pretty!



annjenny
x

Saturday, 4 February 2017

spiced tomato soup for a winter's day...


I can't think of anything nicer than a big bowl of warming soup at this time of year. Nourishment for body and soul.
I found this recipe the other day, whilst sifting through old magazines and cuttings.
I've mentioned before that I am always tearing recipes from magazines and newspapers, which then accumulate in a pile on the desk or floor or tucked into a book.
From time to time I have to 'spring clean' and only keep those recipes which I think I will actually make.


Which is how I found this recipe for a rather posh tomato soup, torn from an old Waitrose Food magazine.

I remember being bitterly disappointed when, years ago, I first made home-made tomato soup. My taste buds were expecting the rather sweet, gloopy flavour of childhood favourite Heinz Cream of Tomato soup and the soup I made was nothing like it!
Much as Proust's madeleine evoked memories of his past life, so tinned tomato soup evokes nostalgic memories of my childhood for me!

But time and taste-buds have moved on and this soup was just as warm and comforting!
And with lentils and cashew nuts providing a good amount of protein, it really was a meal in its own right.



spiced tomato soup
Serves 4
adapted from Waitrose Food magazine


Ingredients:

2tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
crushed garlic, 1 or 2 cloves to taste
2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
150g red lentils
1x400ml tin coconut milk

For the topping:

50g cashew nuts
20 g desiccated coconut
20g fresh coriander

Gently cook the onion, pepper and carrot in the oil for 5 minutes.
Add the ground coriander and cumin and cook for a further 2 minutes, then add the garlic, tomatoes, 250ml water and the lentils. Season, bring to the boil then simmer for 20-25 minutes.
Blend the soup, then add the coconut milk and reheat gently.
Meanwhile, blitz the topping ingredients with a pinch of salt and 4 tbsp water.
Ladle into bowls to serve and add a dollop of topping.







annjenny
x





Thursday, 26 January 2017

January thoughts.


Have you noticed that slowly the days are drawing out? With each passing 24 hours we gain a few more minutes of daylight.

Not that I mind January and the winter months. On the contrary, I find something quite cosy about snuggling indoors when it's cold and dark and wet outside.
Nevertheless, there is still a delight in signs of Spring.
A few Muscari on the kitchen window sill ....


...some cheery daffodils with our morning breakfast.


There have been some beautiful, frosty mornings this month, when the sky is bright blue and the landscape sparkly white, when ducks skid on the frozen dykes and Tiny Girlie stamps with joy to crack the ice on puddles.
There have also been mysterious days when the whole earth seems shrouded in mist and cloud so low that hair and clothes glisten with damp though there is no rain.
Yesterday was such a day. We ventured out, Tiny Girlie her mama and I and found ..... hills!
Just up the road!
Hills are a rarity here in the flat fens.
If truth be told, these were man made hills, the result of years of clay excavation for the manufacture of bricks and now a peaceful nature reserve.


But hills nevertheless and also a place to find a rich variety of fossils. This page from the nature reserve's website explains why it is such a good site for fossils.

Here an ammonite fossil.

 


Today the wind has returned.
A wind so cold and fierce, it pierces the warmest of coats.
A day to stay indoors
in a warm kitchen and make home-made granola.



This is recipe I have made many times before based on this recipe from Deliciously Ella.


Not only is the granola more healthy than many shop bought varieties, it is also, in my opinion, much more delicious.


Plus you can adjust the ingredients to suit. In this batch, I substituted some of the raisins for dried cranberries left in the cupboard from Christmas.



Delicious for breakfast ( or anytime) with yoghurt and passion fruit.

Wishing you well, whether it be cold or warm in your part of the world.


annjenny
x