Foraging

Even by the August Bank Holiday, summer is slowly slipping into autumn and a walk out in the country can unintentionally turn into a foraging trip.

IMG_8085In this case, we set off to simply blow the cobwebs away with a walk near this flooded quarry and the neighbouring woodland.

IMG_8089The path we were taking passed some exposed rocks that I think are limestone pavement. The dips and troughs in the rock are like little micro-habitats. Look at the delicate plants and bright lichens within them.

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IMG_8087As I was taking pictures, the rest of the family were beginning to hunt for something else: mushrooms. My husband has often reminisced about mushroom picking in his younger days.  As I was brought up in town and warned never to pick or eat wild mushrooms, it always seemed like a mildly risky thing to do. However, I figured that in the company of two older family members who have been picking  (and eating) mushrooms from this area for years, we were probably safe. We sent The Husband back to the car to collect a bag and we all spread out on the great mushroom hunt, combing the field and darting off after white blobs on the horizon. Alas, many of them were just stray bits of fleece from the sheep that were grazing nearby. By the time he got back we already had a couple each. We searched for a while, with reasonable success but soon the children wanted to retrace our steps and head into the wood. The Husband’s Aunt decided she would go on alone and look for some more, so the rest of us trooped off to explore a different habitat.

IMG_8102Son Number One was keen to build a den. Between him, Babykins, The Husband and Grandma, they did a pretty good job. The Middle Miss was not so keen to pick up soggy, spiky bits of wood and haul them across rough ground so I took her off to explore and again, I was taken by the smaller plant life of this damp woodland.

IMG_8092We enjoyed looking at these tiny, star-like plants and spotting the even smaller creatures running among them. Then I gave her a little lesson in using a compass, with the built in app on my phone. We tested the theory that moss grows on the north side of tree trunks but it didn’t seem to be a very good theory in this particular conifer plantation. All the time, The Middle Miss was looking out to see if her Great Aunt had returned. As soon as she was spotted we ran to see what she had found.

IMG_8143Sure enough, the little bag she had taken was full up with mushrooms of varying sizes. By that time, everyone was ready to head back home.

IMG_8100I tried really hard to capture the view of the fells as we drove back in the car, they looked so dark and dramatic. The eastern Lakeland fells that surround Haweswater hold special memories for me and I will enjoy looking at this picture, despite the poor quality image my iPhone produced.

IMG_8105And finally, the only way to eat foraged field mushrooms (according to The Husband anyway). Mushrooms cooked in milk, with a little cornflour to thicken the sauce and served on toast. A taste of his country childhood.

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52 weeks of happy 7/52

IMG_6262I’m a little bit behind this week. Blame half term.

This time last week it was Shrove Tuesday, the day for pancakes! This year we shared it with friends who are new to the tradition. All the children had a go at flipping a pancake (under supervision of course), even Babykins. Some of them even managed to get their pancake to turn over and land in the pan again – happy days. We ate ours with lemon and sugar, golden syrup, chocolate sauce, cheese and ham and later, the grown ups had mushrooms in a milky sauce too. Note to self – pancakes are better when served for dessert only.

IMG_6311We’ve had some beautiful skies this week. The above was a sunset and below is a sunrise. Both taken with my iphone and jazzed up a bit with instagram.


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Both these skyscapes predicted the weather correctly: ‘Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning’. The clear delicate, pinky sunset led to a cold frosty night and sunny morning. The fiery sunrise led to a cold day with lots of snow showers. Brrrr. Both the colours in the sky and the fact that I could get it right as an amateur meteorologist made me happy this week.

IMG_6313Who wouldn’t be happy at the sight of snowdrops? What made these special was being presented with them by my little Babykins and then watching him carefully put them in the old jam jar vase. It reminded me of his antics this time last year.

IMG_6317This last picture is a bit of a strange one. These jeans belong to my son but he won’t be wearing them. Despite the fact that they were clearly a waste of money, that makes me happy.

They are far too big around the waist.

I bought them a long time ago when he was still taking steroids monthly as part of his treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Plus size jeans are hard to come by so when I found some, I bought the next size too. I just didn’t realise how much those monthly steroid courses were affecting his build (to see what steroids can do click here). Now he’s been steroid free for well over a year and is looking more like a classic 7 year old boy – skinny. Today I took them out of his wardrobe and packed them away to sell at a later date. Happy, happy, happy to be further and further away from cancer.

Quick comforting treats for Cold Days

I had a phase of making these dropped scones a few weeks back. They are very quick, very yummy and a bit like the little scotch pancakes you can buy in supermarkets. The main downside is that you have to keep small children well away from the making stage because it gets HOT! I must confess that this is not my own recipe, it is lifted from the Be-Ro Book (every home should have one – if you follow the link, you will find our how to order one). However, it must be such an old and generic recipe that I don’t feel too guilty about reproducing it here. Dropped Scones

100g (4oz) Self Raising flour

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1 egg

milk to mix, approximately 4 tablespoons

Optional extras: – few drops of lemon essence – handful of dried fruit

1.Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a basin, add the egg and gradually beat in the milk to make a thick batter

2. Add any of the optional extras if you fancy them and mix well

3. Bake a few at a time (not too many they don’t take long) by dropping spoonfuls of the mixture on a hot, well-greased, heavy based frying pan or a ‘girdle’ if you’ve got one (not the Playtex 18 hour kind your granny used to wear). The Be-Ro book says the pan should be heated “until a little water sprinkled on the surface skips about in balls, evaporating.”

4. Cook until the underside is golden and there are little holes forming on top (see above) – it should only take a minute or two and you should be able to lift it with a palette knife or spatula. You should also see it rise slightly as it cooks.

5. Turn over and cook the other side.

6. Let them cool slightly and then eat, with or without butter.

Enjoy!

Halloween Frugality

Is it wrong to cook the Halloween pumpkin? Are you all going to be disgusted with me? Will it make any difference if I tell you that I peeled both the outside and inside? Inspired by this, I decided to go ahead and make something useful from what would otherwise be a heap of rotting squash. I’m not sure how the children will take it when they wake up tomorrow but it’s too late now. I peeled, chopped and roasted the three pumpkins along with about four cloves of garlic. The Husband had already diced and gently cooked two onions before we changed our supper plans so I added the roast pumpkin to them. I cooked the pumpkin and onion together with approximately half a teaspoon of the spices shown below (and mentioned in the link above), a couple of diced carrots and just under a litre of chicken stock that I had in the freezer. Et voila….Frugal Halloween themed soup for lunch tomorrow. It’s a bit more chickeny than I anticipated (I forgot how much shredded meat was frozen with the stock) but it smells divine. I will blitz it tomorrow, before serving and see how the ultimate taste testers get on with it.   It looks pretty good to me, but then I have been enjoying a little tipple. Damson gin. Gorgeous. One day I might get around to straining the batch I made last year!    

Baking For A Birthday

The Middle Miss had a birthday this week. She helped me make her birthday cake. She is very good at this kind of thing as she has been well trained by both her Dad and Grandma. It was a treat for me to have her on her own, for a change, while Grandma had the boys. She was so excited by the whole process, but the best bit was adding food colouring to make pink swirls in the mixture.

This was the cake we were aiming for. It’s from a book by the very talented Debbie Brown called Enchanting Magical Cakes. I haven’t made many cakes from this book but I’ve drooled over it for a very long time. The attention to detail in the cakes is what makes them so attractive. That and the liberal use of edible glitter.

Baking the three cakes that this design required took ten eggs and the best part of the morning. In the afternoon Grandma and I did a child swap. I loaned her The Middle Miss and she returned Son Number One. He took over the baking duties. We decided to make the name of each child that was coming to the party. While he rolled and cut and counted letters, I worked on the cake.

It turned out to be a long day. Things weren’t helped by Babykins refusing to go to bed. He eventually fell asleep on The Husband’s knee at about 10pm. At that point the supper pots were still lying around, the cake was very much ‘in progress’ and I hadn’t wrapped the birthday present. In fact, it was still hiding in the loft. I finally turned the light out at about quarter to one in the morning. I think it was worth it, even though I had to retire to a darkened room for a lie down after the actual party!

Slug Paradise

We may not be enjoying the wet summer but the weeds and pests are. When the weather is bad, it’s easy to let your gardening duties slip. Unfortunately that has happened in our allotment. The Husband spent the day on Saturday trying to get to grips with the lush growth that has sprung up. I hope that you can see the fruits of his labours in these photos.

Our salad leaves and beetroot can be seen at the front of this ‘after’ picture. I don’t understand why some of them have bolted? I always thought bolting was a result of lack of water. How ironic that I planted them next to our water butts to ensure they could be well looked after. I suspect our water butts have been overflowing this year.

The tall yellow flowers in the first picture are parsnips that have gone to seed. I’m quite surprised that he cut them down because the insects love them and we’re suckers for bees and hoverflies. The daisies and dark red flowers (hollyhocks?) are in Son Number One’s patch. They do look pretty, even if they are a bit floppy and wild.

I think you can see the most dramatic change here. The patch of purple sprouting broccoli (psb for short) has finally been cleared. I’m really disappointed that we didn’t eat more of it. I discovered that psb and not wheat was what was giving me major stomach aches. I wonder if a different variety would be less difficult to digest? I love psb so if you’ve got an answer, please let me know. The bed next to our greenhouse has strawberries in it. As usual, they have produced lots of fruit, but sadly, most of it has rotted. The chap who does gardening at my children’s school told me he put his strawberries in pots this year so the fruits don’t touch the ground. Very wise. How did he know it was going to be such a wet year? I don’t think I will be making strawberry jam this year. To the left of the greenhouse are my onions that are still doing well. We consciously chose to plant more of these this year as they are so low maintenance. Potatoes and onions grow without needing the love that seedlings do and they don’t need much processing when they are harvested.

We have had some successes this year. The tough, perennial plants that can thrive despite an onslaught of slugs and a lack of sunshine are doing really well. Above are our globe artichokes. They are producing lots of lovely heads that are crying out to be preserved in oil. Just another ‘to do’ job to add to the list.

Finally, the soft fruit bushes are growing well, particularly the gooseberries. I have lot of plans for these. Hopefully, that will be my next post….

 

Digging Days

We are starting to feel a mild panic about the state of our allotment. We have not spent anything like enough time in it this year. The beds are slowly getting turned over and dug but really, this is work that should be done in winter.

A few weeks ago I managed to plant a few rows of potatoes and two beds full of onions.

Son Number One and the Husband worked on the strawberry patch.

The first batch of seeds finally went in today: beetroot, chard, spinach, rocket and mixed lettuce. They should provide us with a crop, it will just be a bit later than it could have been.

Every year I promise myself that I will be planting rows of early peas in February but it never happens. Every year I persuade myself that I am too busy looking after the house and the children. Am I just looking for an excuse? I beat myself up with thoughts that if we were starving, I would make sure I was out there digging, hoeing and planting. Is that a bit mad?

I think the truth lies somewhere between laziness and lack of time. I must confess that I rarely even think about working in the garden during the winter months. As soon as spring starts to make an appearance, I really should make more of an effort. The trouble is, gardening and supervising a toddler don’t really mix. You might get away with it in a fairly tidy, safe back garden but not in our allotment where there are masses of uneven surfaces, sharp corners and nettles-a-plenty. I can’t turn my back on him for a moment. Not only are there dangers, but he is still of the opinion that he needs to test most things by putting them in his mouth. Lovely.

It’s not just toddlers you can’t turn your back on. Forget about a garden during April and this is what you will find when you go back.

So today, with Babykins safely playing at Grandmas house (and the other two next door with friends), the Husband and I got going with the digging and weeding. We had a bit of help from Son Number One later in the afternoon. He is starting to get useful. He managed to ride his scooter safely from his Grandmas house to the allotment, bringing our packed lunch with him. He enjoyed doing some ‘destructive gardening’. The photo below shows his efforts digging out the purple sprouting broccoli that is starting to go to seed.

There is always some interesting bug life to be found. I have no idea what this is. Son Number One pronounced it to be “Some sort of mini beast”. It was rather shiny and beautiful so I will be sad if I find out that it contains a garden pest.

There were plenty of ladybirds around today. Though I like seeing them I’m never really sure if this is a good thing. After all, if there are plenty of ladybirds surely that means there are plenty of pests around for them to eat. Still, I can’t help but think they are a cheery sight.

Another cheery sight was to be seen amongst our soft fruit. With very little effort from us, the gooseberries and redcurrants are starting to swell. You may also have noticed the strawberry flower above (with the ladybird). How exciting to think that in a couple of months they will be juicy, red fruits, ready to turn into quick desserts, ice cream and jam.

Now that I have bought myself the appropriate bowl, I might even get around to a summer pudding this year.

Remember the rhubarb patch I posted a picture of back in February. Back then it was mainly full of buds and promise. Now it is in all it’s leafy glory and we have enjoyed roasted rhubarb for our pudding for the last two nights. The Husband is even having it on his morning muesli.

We are lucky to have a babysitter on standby most of the time. Even more lucky that said babysitter can (mostly) cope with three children at once. I think it helps that the babysitter also enjoys the fruits of our labours in the allotment. She has been feasting on the purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb over the last few weeks too.

Hopefully after our efforts today (and possibly tomorrow) there will be a few more things to tuck into when the summer arrives.