52 weeks of happy 16/52

Before I record my happy things for the week, I want to reflect a little bit on these posts. Practising happiness is, I think, a good thing. Setting aside a little bit of time each week to be thankful for the small pleasures in life is something that humans have frequently done in one form or another, often as a part of prayer and religion. Mostly it was done privately, maybe it still should be?

I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to go away from here with the idea that my life is full of unremitting joy and that I never get fed up, frustrated, confused, angry or uncertain. Trust me, the last week has had it’s fair share of challenges. Not massive, life changing, insurmountable challenges, just everyday stuff. However, at this moment in my life, I want to choose to remember the good things and if someone else enjoys sharing those good things then that is….good. So, on with the happiness…..

knittingThis has been the week that I have finally got into knitting. In one week, I have completed three projects. They were all very simple, even if the wavy blue scarf doesn’t look like it, but it has given me a real sense of achievement. I’ve been able to do the basics of knitting for a long time but up until now I’ve always felt at a loss if I made a mistake. One of the things that has made me happy this week is discovering that I could unpick stitches and get them back on the needles again. Funny how that has almost been more important for me than actually making the items. I think I will have more to say about this at a later date.

IMG_6947I have no idea what I am going to use these for but the colours of the fabric and the buttons made me happy. The buttons were more charity shop bargains so that is another reason to be happy.

allotment april 2013Saturday was a beautiful day, reason enough to be happy. The Husband spent most of it at our allotment, Son Number One was away at a Beaver Scouts activity, The Middle Miss had some Grandma time and I shopped for seeds (as well as fabric and buttons) with Babykins. Later though, we went down to see how Daddy was getting on. It certainly is looking a lot more neat and tidy, now that the hockey season is over. The slightly warmer weather of the last week had brought on the purple sprouting broccoli so I picked our first harvest. I am very happy to report that I seem to be able to eat it with no ill effects, unlike last year. The sunny day also seemed to be waking up the butterflies. The pair of tortoiseshells in the top left picture fluttered around for quite a long time from patch to patch.

IMG_2221Finally, a picture that is just pretty. My favourite yellow roses, bought for me by The Husband, (along with a packet of croissants), some cheery narcissus with a rougue hyacinth, bought for me by my Mum and my blue heart hanging thing, which I think just looks lovely against all the yellow. And of course my knitted sheep. So, if that in any way made you feel happy, feel free to leave me a comment and make me even happier.

P.S. I think the 52 weeks of Happy thing originated at Little Birdie if you want to take a look.

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.


The joy of the season – part one – food

Warning! There is a lot of food bragging in this post.

I sent the Husband down to the allotment last night for some purple sprouting broccoli (expensive food number one, currently retailing at £1.50 for 200g). We have lots of it at the moment, especially as we have recently been away for ten days.

I love how it looks close up, the colours are so subtle

Last night we had it with a roast chicken dinner, shared with my Mum, brother and sister-in-law. Today it accompanied the most successful risotto I’ve ever made.

I know it doesn’t look like much but it contained plenty of wine and a decent (if I do say so myself) home made chicken stock. You certainly don’t need much meat to make a tasty chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn risotto. This is all I had left when I’d completely picked over last night’s chicken carcass.

I wonder how many other people do this? If I buy a whole chicken I always boil up the carcass either for soup or stock. Separating out all the meat from the tiny bones is not my favourite job but I always enjoy the end result. Today’s stock was one I was particularly pleased with.

Whilst I was rooting around in the fridge. looking for carrots and celery for my stock, I discovered that last night, the Husband had also brought back ( ta-daaaaa) the first asparagus of the year (expensive food number two).

I steamed it in the top pan of the steamer with the broccoli underneath. By some fluke I managed to cook them both right, tender but with some bite still.

They really were a treat. The Middle Miss had some and gave her approval. Then she looked at the risotto and this is how the  cross examination conversation went.

Middle Miss: Mum, are these mushrooms in here?

Me: No. (wondering if this is the ‘right’ answer)

Middle Miss: What are they then Mum? (sceptically)

Me: Hmm, I’ve forgotten what are those things called (I was buying time to think of an answer) Oh, yes, I remember, they’re champignons.

And that was that. No further questions, my lord. The jury was out. Thankfully a positive verdict was returned. All three of them polished off their ‘champignon’ risotto.

The Promise of Spring

We called into our allotment yesterday. It has been somewhat neglected in the last few months. This is not good. In the next few weeks we should start planting the seeds for the new season. There is a LOT of work to do before we can begin.

At least the children showed plenty of enthusiasm for digging their patch over.

There was all the usual excitement over the first worm to be dug up (poor worm).

Wallace was let out of the shed to do his duty as the door stop. If only he could actually provide tea.

We have had quite a good sprout harvest. Sadly, we should probably have picked a lot more of them by now.

I planted a whole row of cabbage seeds way back last spring. I didn’t do a very good job of marking where they were though. When they started to germinate, I couldn’t work out what was cabbage and what was weed. I didn’t have this problem with any of my other seeds so I assumed none  had grown. So I got a surprise when I spotted this:

Just goes to show how long it has been since I was gardening.

Our purple kale has been standing for well over a year. It looked like it had some new shoots on it so we nibbled a few raw leaves. It’s surprisingly tasty that way. The biggest surprise of all is that Son Number One declared both the raw and cooked versions to be ‘yummy’. I don’t think this photo  really does justice to the colour.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find some shoots on the purple sprouting broccoli. There will be MUCH more of this in the next few weeks. These seeds really took off. I foolishly planted three whole rows last summer. The Husband got the job of separating them out from the original clumps of seedlings. He took great delight in telling me I had overdone it by about 40 too many plants. It will make a change from a courgette glut.

Guess what was on the menu for our supper last night. It was a veritable feast of brassicas (and toad in the hole).

There are plenty of reminders around that we are only just leaving winter behind……

For example, this is what remains of last summer’s runner beans.

But spring is certainly on the way.

I can’t wait to eat our first rhubarb of the season. Maybe next year we should try to ‘force’ some, buying forced rhubarb is very expensive. We’ve got the right variety ‘Timperly Early‘. Again, I don’t think this photo does justice to the beautiful colour and texture of the unfurling leaves. There is so much spring promise in them.