Autumn time begins in the allotment

My allotment is a disgrace. You can’t really tell from these photos because I’ve been very selective. You may note the lack of wide angle shots…IMG_1885

However, parts of it are thriving. The courgettes continue to grow at a fantastic pace. I can’t make them into cakes fast enough, even though I quadruple the recipe and make four loaves at a time. I’m on the lookout for the perfect chocolate courgette cake so if you’ve got any ideas about where I can find it, let me know.

sunny pumpkin patch and sunflowers

We’ve been really successful with pumpkins over the last two years. They are the ideal plant for me because they suddenly put on a lot of growth in late July and August, just at a time when I don’t get much opportunity for gardening. They are so big and prolific that their leaves seem to suppress a lot of weeds. Except for the ever present nasturtiums, of course.

IMG_1847 In my opinion, we have a nasturtium problem in our patch. Just like the pumpkins, they also have a tendency to take over in July and August when I take my eye off the ball. At this time of year, before any frosts, they are at their height. The Husband insists that there are worse weeds we could have and I suppose he is right. They are not particularly difficult to rip out, unlike the creeping buttercup and bindweed I’m currently wrestling with as I clear the onion patch. They are just very, very good at self seeding.

But, they are pretty. The bees love them and we can harvest them too.pale yellow nasturtiumnasturtium pesto

The leeks are one area that I have managed to weed. Don’t look at the edges of the picture though. In hindsight, I wish I’d grown more leeks to see us through winter. Maybe next year. So far they seem to be pretty low maintenance plants, which is a priority for me.

IMG_2148This is the chard patch. Another easy to grow, low maintenance vegetable that I have been adding to curries instead of spinach. I think I am more in love with how it looks than how it tastes, to be honest, but, I just keep thinking about how healthy it must be. It should stand all winter, being resistant to frost. A perfect cut and come again crop.

chard

climbing french beans I have managed a few meals from my climbing french beans. I think I will need to start these off earlier next year. It seems that they are just beginning to grow well. This is the most success I’ve ever had with climbing french beans so I’m pretty happy.

plug plants I succumbed to buying some plug plants from the local garden centre a week or two ago. I never got around to raising any purple sprouting broccoli or kale earlier in the summer but I really want to eat some in spring. I don’t normally like buying these kind of plants, it feels like cheating. However, I’ve got clear ground and I want it to be filled. I’ll just have to do better next time.

IMG_2142 Some of the cabbages I sowed in the spring have survived my lack of attention and the surplus of attention from the slugs and cabbage white butterflies. They are now growing well. I’d better start planning how I’m going to encourage the children to eat them. I’m hoping my mulch works. It is made up of dead grass that I pulled up from elsewhere in the plot. Using waste as a mulch? Will it work? Time will tell.

IMG_1891 The autumn raspberries are starting to ripen up but they are few and far between. I think they are still getting established in their new position and they are also a bit swamped by a vast carpet of nasturtiums. There are usually just enough for a little treat after a hard afternoon of weeding.

The start of September was very sunny, as it often is just as the summer holidays come to an end. As the children returned to school and nursery I returned to my routine of trying to get to the allotment more regularly. Having that little bit of space to dig and weed and plant and just sit in the sun is a real pleasure.

One day as I sat I was aware of lots of buzzing. The enormous flowering weed plant next to me was full of hoverflies busy sucking up all the nectar it had to offer. If I was a real gardener I wouldn’t have let this plant get so big, never mind flower. But, after spending time watching and trying to photograph all the insects I didn’t have the heart to chop it down.

IMG_1859IMG_1914Our sunflowers seem to be reaching their peak now, the tallest one is over 7ft.

IMG_2262These too attract the insects. There is something very appealing about watching a big, fluffy, bumble bee work it’s way across a sunflower head, probing each tiny flower for nectar.

IMG_2190I’m so glad I managed to plant some sunflowers. They are such happy plants. When the bees have had all the food they can get and the flowers have faded, the birds can take over and enjoy the seeds.

Autumn is slowly starting to make it’s presence felt. The autumn equinox was a day or two ago and my last few visits to the allotment have been in cooler weather. The mornings I have visited have been still and slightly misty with the damp air highlighting numerous, silky spiders webs.

The elderberries I could reach have been harvested and the birds are stripping the rest of the tree. Rose hips and other berries are brightening up the hedges as the leaves slowly begin to change and fall.

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IMG_1792The garden is fading from green to brown.

IMG_1789Autumn begins.IMG_1803

 

Summer holidays 2014

It’s been a while since I updated my space here. I know holiday photos are boring but this is mainly for me and my family archive. If you want to see some happy pictures, feel free to read on.

Our holidays started with a trip to Shap to take part in the 2014 ‘Total Warrior’ 10km muddy obstacle race. This is the ‘before’ picture.before total warrior 14This is one of the most energy sapping obstacles we did. The Husband and I are smack bang in the middle of this photo. I’m the one up to my chest in mud. I was very grateful to swim through a river shortly after this! The weather was dreadful, which didn’t make much difference to us as competitors but it wasn’t much fun for spectators.total warrior 14 in the mudFortunately, things improved the day we drove to Beddgelert in North Wales. The mountain you can see in the distance is Snowdon, the highest in Wales and England. This was taken from in front of our caravan, which was parked at Cae Du campsite, a site that prides itself in providing a peaceful, quiet environment. Driving the caravan there wasn’t an experience for the faint hearted but Beddgelert proved to be a good base for exploring Snowdonia. View of Snowdon from CampsiteOne of our first days out was to Criccieth, a little coastal town which had everything you could want (except perhaps sand). We found a patch of sheltered pebbly beach and settled in to eat freshly fried chips. We spent the rest of the afternoon building rock caves instead of sand castles. I could have spent a few days here as there seemed to be a high street filled with delightful, independent shops but I never got any closer than admiring them from the car. There was also a cute little castle close to the beach but we never made it to that either, we were contended enough on the beach.Sea at Cricceth North WalesCaenarfon Castle however, was unmissable. It is truly spectacular. There were so many towers and turrets to explore that we spent hours there. You need plenty of stamina and a head for heights. Climbing the towers gives wonderful views over the town, the Menai Straights and the mountains of Snowdonia.Canaerfon CastleThis is the view from the Snowdon Mountain Railway. There aren’t many mountains you can ascend by rail in the UK but Snowdon is one of them. It was very expensive for us to do this trip as a family of five so we were very grateful for mostly good views. The summit was cloudy, cold and windy but I suppose that was a good experience too. Our children now know how true it is when people say that the conditions can change quickly in the mountains.View from SnowdonWe did have some rainy days during our holiday. This photo was taken the day that the remains of Hurricane Bertha passed over. Apart from putting the storm straps on the awning, it didn’t affect us too much. We just settled in with games and crafts and eventually dodged the showers for a walk to the village.Indoor games caravan Wet Wales hillsidesAnother of our days out was to Plas Newydd, a stately home on the Anglesea side of the Menai Straits. The estate is owned by the National Trust, who have made their properties very family friendly in recent years. Our children generally enjoy the quizzes that the NT provide and the Plas Newydd experience was no different. They also took full advantage of the playground and happily explored the terrace and formal gardens. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me because although I’d never really visited the house or gardens before, I stayed at the adjacent outdoor education centre a few times when I was a biology teacher. I used to visit with the 6th form on their field trips and we spent many an hour foraging in the seaweed on the shore below the house.Garden at Plas Newyyd AngleseaSnowdonia has some fabulous coastline. This picture was taken at Nefyn on the Llyn Peninsula. The colours and the light are a wonderful combination of blues, greens, browns and white. We got quite a taste for swimming in the sea, with the beach at Llandanwg, near Harlech having water that seemed surprisingly warm.Ready for swimming Into the Sea North WalesHarlech and Nefyn both had great sandcastle sand too.

Sandcastles 2014In truth, we could have spent a lot of time just exploring the area around the campsite and Beddgelert. This lake was a short, easy walk away along a quiet lane and scenic footpath.Paddling in lake near Beddgellert Beddgellert scenery lane at BeddgellertBut, North Wales has plenty of attractions too and and we couldn’t resist another rail trip from Beddgelert to Porth Madoc on the Welsh Highland Railway, a narrow gauge railway that runs North to Caenarfon too.Dragon bench on Welsh Highland RailwayWe could have spent lots more time exploring North Wales but our time was up after 11 nights. We had a pressing deadline. The Middle Miss wanted to be home in time for her seventh birthday. However, staying on a site with tents stimulated a short camping trip over the August bank holiday weekend. I told Son Number One that I was never camping again and that if he wanted to I was happy to keep paying his subs at cubs. The Husband fancied a trip though and planned to take the older two children to a site near Robin Hood’s Bay, which is just an hour away down the coast. I hummed and ahhed about joining them and eventually I felt sorry for Babykins, who was going to be left behind if I didn’t go. Luckily, it was a great trip on a pleasant site with plenty of sunshine.tent set up camping camping tea timeOn the Saturday, The Husband, Son Number One and The Middle Miss embarked on a bike ride from Hawsker to Ravenscar, the same trip that we did last September with the local scouts.


Coastline from RavenscarBabykins and I explored Robin Hood’s Bay itself.

IMG_1698IMG_1670IMG_1668IMG_1655IMG_1652IMG_1651IMG_1645IMG_1644 It’s an incredibly photogenic place but I just haven’t captured it. The houses appear to be piled on top of each other and cling to the sides of a steep road down to the harbour.

robin hoods bay housesEverything about it is quaint and picturesque.

old bike at robin hood's bay

As you can see from the picture below, fishing is still a part of the town’s activities.

lobster pots robin hood's bay

I didn’t know it had it’s own sea monster!

sea monster robin hood's bay

Mainly, I think, it’s a place to make happy holiday memories…

memory bench robin hood's bay

 

What to do with left over egg whites?

Last week I finally made some gooseberry ice cream. The recipe I use calls for egg yolks, but not the whites. Unfortunately I miscalculated the quantities I was making so when all the ice cream was packed away in the freezer, I had eight egg whites to use up.

whisked egg white

Lemon meringue pie? Making a pastry case is too much effort.

Lots of egg white omelettes? Nice, but no good if you want to use them all up at once.

Angel food cake or some other whipped cake? Apparently the egg whites need to be at room temperature for a good result and mine were chilled.

Coconut haystacks? Just the thing, quick, easy and I happen to have bought a large amount of desiccated coconut recently.

This recipe is from a children’s cook book we were given a few years ago. I don’t feel too guilty about repeating it as it is a pretty generic, basic recipe. It does lend itself to baking with children because the whisking and mixing are pretty straightforward.

Coconut Macaroons

The basic ingredients are egg white, caster sugar and desiccated coconut.

I will give you the quantities for one egg white and you can multiply it up depending upon how many you need to use up.

1 egg white, 35g caster sugar, 70g desiccated coconut. This should make about seven.

Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Whisk the caster sugar in a third at a time. Your mixture should now be quite shiny. Gently fold in the coconut using a metal spoon and a figure of eight motion trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Mould the mixture into heaps using an egg cup, removing them with a tea spoon. They should hold their shape well when cooked so you can fit quite a few on a baking tray at a time. We bake ours on a good quality non-stick tray but you could line a regular tray with some parchment. In either case a very light coating of oil will reduce the risk of them sticking.

Bake them for 15 minutes at 140C or gas mark 3. They should be golden brown on top when done. Lift them off using a spatula or palette knife and place them on a cooling rack.

coconut haystacks or macaroons

When they are cool, melt some chocolate by breaking it up and placing it in a bowl resting on top of a pan of boiling water. Either dip the macaroons into the melted chocolate so that half is covered or drizzle them with lines of melted chocolate.  Leave to cool again on a piece of greaseproof paper.

coconut haystacks macaroons chocolate

Enjoy as a gluten free treat with your coffee.

 

Three and a half

Family life is constantly changing. It seems like no time since I was feeling cooped up and frustrated with a toddler who needed lots of entertaining.

IMG_0480But now my boy is three and a half and has the privilege of five afternoons a week in school nursery and two mornings in playgroup. We only really share Monday and Thursday mornings and they are wonderful. Often we just potter about together on the allotment, weeding, watering, picking and planting. We cycle there and back, usually stopping at the nearby play area for a bit of climbing, swinging and pretending to be pirates and sharks.

IMG_0822Occasionally we’ve been to visit the birds at Saltholme or the seals just a bit further up the road. Sometimes we do errands, popping to the shops, the bank, the library or the post office. It’s low stress, low pressure and usually just me and him.

I’ve never had so much freedom to enjoy the company of someone who is three and a half. When Son Number one was three and a half he was very ill and we were dealing with leukaemia. What’s more, he had a baby sister to divide my attention. When she was three and a half, Babykins came along and my attention was divided again. I feel quite sad that I can barely remember what my older two children were like at this age.

When they were little I would have looked for organised activities or arranged to meet up with friends but now I’m happy just to be alone together. I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to enjoy the company of other adults when small children are around is actually quite hard work. I know that at a different stage in my life I would have needed the kind of support that only other parents can offer. I would have needed a place to go to get out of the house. But that stage has passed. For this short period of time, I’m really happy and contented to share it with Babykins.

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#Mumstylist

My daughter is blessed with the kind of lustrous locks that I can only dream about: long, thick, blonde and easily waved or curled. I’ve been combing (see what I did there) through Pinterest to find new styles for her. You can take a look at my board here.

Sometimes, hairstyling is a struggle. It is inevitably a rushed experience as we try to meet the 8.30 a.m. deadline on school days. Despite that, I think I do quite a god job. You might well ask why I bother with fancy styles but I want to enjoy her beautiful hair while she is still young enough to need me to be involved. I want her to look neat and tidy for school too and we often resort to a simple ponytail or plaits.

You can see my efforts on Instagram, via the hashtag #Mumstylist.

How do you style your daughters hair and do you enjoy the experience? Join in with the hashtag on Instagram if you want to. I’d love to see what other Mums do.

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The best and easiest ice cream ever

strawberry ice creamThis recipe came from my sister-in-law and like most of the recipes we use in this house, it is quick, easy and adaptable. For the basic ice cream you will need:

Half a pint of double cream

400g tin of condensed (sticky) milk

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful that you don’t over whip the cream as it can turn to butter in the blink of an eye. Fold the condensed milk into the cream and freeze.

That is it. No churning or mixing. Just freeze.

Now, the fun thing about this recipe is that you can flavour it in so many ways. My sister-in-law usually adds crushed crunchy bars to her ice cream so that was one of the first additions we tried. The combination of smooth ice cream and sweet, crispy, toasted sugar is delicious. Here are some of the other variations we have tried.

Chopped up After Eight mints (a bit like eating the mint Vienetta of my 80’s youth)

Chopped caramel bars (not so good – the caramel is too sticky).

Rum and raisin. The raisins were soaked in warm rum first and then folded in. Delicious.

Lemon curd. I think The Husband mixed some lemon curd right into the cream and he also  added some lemon ‘ripples’. Also delicious

Strawberry jam. As lemon, above and just as successful.

You can also adapt this recipe to use up excess fruit. For example, I’ve harvested over 15kg of strawberries in the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying eating them on breakfast cereal, with clotted cream and scones and in smoothies but mainly, I’ve been making jam. However, one of my batches of jam never quite made it to the setting stage so I sieved it using my new/old vintage Kenwood mouli attachment and used it in a batch of ice cream. You could get a similar effect by using fresh strawberries. In fact, I used this recipe a few years ago and it was very good. It’s the same basic recipe as I got from my sister-in-law.

If I ever get around to picking the many gooseberries in our allotment I may try that variation too.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this recipe. It’s not exactly healthy, but you only need a little bit of it for a very indulgent treat.

P.S. It’s too good for children.

 

Apple for the teacher

It’s  the time of year when people look for gifts for their children’s teacher. Normally I leave this to the last minute but this year, I’ve had a moment of inspiration since spotting this little brooch by JammyPudding on Instagram. You can buy it from her Etsy shop here

il_570xN.517506422_sh7vI was immediately reminded of an image of a crocheted washcloth I stuck on pinterest months (years?) ago.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 15.43.49I can’t credit this image very well because when I click on the link in pinterest, it takes me to a dead end. If you want to investigate further, check my pinterest page, the link is here. Anyway, I thought that I could create something very similar so I set about making my own version. Mine is probably a tad smaller than the one above, which was intentional because I liked the idea of a brooch, rather than a wash cloth. This one is made with cotton double knit and measures approximately 7cm across.IMG_0693Since I made the first one, I have made an even smaller one using fine crochet cotton. It is much smaller, only about 3.5 cm across.

If you would like to make one of your own, here is the pattern. Everything is in UK crochet terms. From the second round onwards you need to put your hook into the top of the stitches from the previous round. Sometimes you need to put two stitches into the same place, sometimes only one. In the pattern, you can tell if you need to move your hook onto the next stitch place because there will be a comma so, for example, if you need to make a double crochet in one stitch from the previous round and then two trebles in the next stitch, and then a half treble in the next stitch, it’ll be written like this:

double crochet, 2 trebles, half treble

Round 1

Make a magic circle

IMG_0656

IMG_0657 Pull a loop through the circle to begin.

IMG_0658Chain three and put a stitch marker in the third chain (i.e. the one before the one that is on the hook). You can see that I used a bit of spare yarn or a safety pin for a stitch marker.

IMG_0660Make 14 trebles, crocheting over the tail end of the magic circle.

IMG_0661 IMG_0662 Pull on the tail of the magic circle to make the loop tighten up and you should have something like this.

IMG_0663 When you have completed this first round, join it with a slip stitch in the third chain you made at the start, the one with the stitch marker in.

IMG_0664You should have 15 stitches and something that looks like this.

IMG_0665Round 2

Once again, chain three and place a stitch marker as before. Make a treble in the same stitch.

IMG_0667 Continue to make two trebles into each stitch from the previous round until you have 30 stitches altogether (don’t look too closely at my picture – I can’t count 30 in there). Join the round with a slip stitch as before.

IMG_0669 Round 3 – shaping the bottom of the apple

In the next stitch make a double crochet and a treble, then into the next stitch make 2 trebles, make 1 treble in the next stitch *make 2 half trebles in the next stitch and 1 half treble in the on after that* repeat from * to * 10 more times putting a stitch marker in the 13 stitch that you have made.

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IMG_0732The reverse the stitches you made at the start of the round. Make 1 treble, 2 trebles, 1 treble 1 double crochet. Cast off by cutting the yarn leaving a tail long enough to thread through a needle and weave it in on the reverse side.

IMG_0735Round 4 – shaping the top

Start by inserting your hook where the stitch marker is placed. Make the following stitches: 1 slip stitch, 1 double crochet, 1 half treble, 2 trebles, 1 treble, 1 treble, 2 trebles, 1 treble 1 double crochet, slip stitch, slip stitch, slip stitch, double crochet 1 treble, 2 treble, 1 treble, 1 treble, 2 trebles, 1 half treble, 1 double crochet, 1 slip stitch

I haven’t shown pictures for every bit of this process.

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IMG_0697IMG_0698IMG_0699IMG_0700This is what you should have now.

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Making the green or red edge 

Starting at the bottom of the apple, insert your hook into the back loop only and draw a loop of green (or red) yarn through to make a slip stitch. Continue to do this all the way around the apple shape.

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Making the stalk and seeds

Cast on with some brown yarn in the centre top and chain 6.

IMG_0685Then, insert your hook into the 5th stitch that you made and make a slip stitch. Continue to slip stitch back down the the line of chains.

IMG_0686IMG_0689IMG_0688Cast off the brown yarn at the base of the stalk by weaving in the tail end on the reverse side.

With another piece of brown yarn, stitch the seeds. I think this is ‘lazy daisy’ stitch.

IMG_0691 IMG_0692 IMG_0693That is it!

I have lots of ideas about how to use these little apples. I would like to crochet two together and stuff them with some apple scented pot pouri to make a pomander for the wardrobe. I’d like to team it up with a pretty covered coat hanger decorated in similar colours.

I hope you enjoy making some too.IMG_0710