Monday, 29 April 2013

House and Garden Potterings

Well goodness me, the sun is shining again this morning, but still there's that very keen wind, so we're not out of the woods yet. Fortunately I AM out of the woods, having spent this weekend largely pottering around the house and garden. Last week we did quite a lot in the garden - yes, even I did some herby stuff - so it all looks rather neat and blooming at the moment. Here's a quick tour for you.
(Hmm, they didn't load in the right order so we are dodging about a bit!)

       Small rose bush, pot of ramsons and a trough of replanted garlic - fingers crossed, Thelma!

    This is the lower end of the lawn, left hand side of garden. You can just see the 'Fishing Lodge'    peeking from behind the fence.

      OK we have jumped to the right hand side now, looking towards Jim's freshly set veggie patch.

   And back at the top left side, with a view of the Curs├ęd Beech! I am very unkind, and frequently go out just to ill-wish this straggly upstart of a beech-nut!

I do love this view of the left hand herbs! I photograph it a lot, which, if you have been reading my blog for some time, you will know! The lovage is at a manageable size at the moment, but it does get a bit big and blowsy. Not that there's anything wrong with that! The grape hyacinth have gone mad this year, and self seeded all over the place.

And some of the right hand herbs, and you can just see behind the green planter the troughs of garden mint, one of Moroccan mint and one with rocket, sorrel and Welsh onions. A small pot of curly parsley, as I don't use it much, preferring to grow loads of the flat leaf variety on t'other side . And so from the outside, come on into the living room and see what we've been up to.

Hurrah! Having recycled our huge Habitat sofa in the direction of No 1 son Mike, I can now position Jim's recliner in the corner, where it doesn't dominate the small living room. The little chair seen here is from my sewing room (still waiting for its new loose cover I'm afraid) and is just filling in the gap while we await the arrival of my new arm-chair. 

This is the 'snuggler' which is lovely, but it encourages me to sit with my legs tucked under me which is NOT good for my back. So this will just fit where my little chair is at the moment, and the New Chair will go here. I'm looking for a Butler's Tray to replace the stool here, and get the mess tidied up.

Feeling spring-like yesterday I decided to paint the rest of the dining room chairs - well, not the carver chairs. I got as far as one, so it is going to be a long process! (well I did make more sourdough bread and cook a roast dinner and nip out up to Onion Corner to pick more wild Garlic!)

No, I painted it outside, before you say anything! It looks white here but the colour is actually a very soft green. And here's one I prepared earlier :

Not quite sure, now, about the multi-coloured effect, but I'm probably going to leave it. Repainting would be the equivalent of un-picking stitches, and I avoid that whenever I can!

Speaking of Wild Garlic (oh yes we were!) it seems to be 'trending' at the moment - everywhere I look there are articles about it, and two tv programmes mentioned it over the last week. Fancy that, at last I am trendy. For all the wrong reasons. Ah well.

Hoping this is the start of a good week for everyone, and perhaps some warmer weather too.

PS: Just read the latest edition of Country Living magazine - they too have caught up with me! pg 142: recipe for Wild Garlic Soup with Pesto! 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Walk on the Wild Side

I had a 'roasted garlic and herb' grinder from Sainsburys. I used it a lot for speedy seasoning, despite the fact I've always got garlic in the house and herbs in the garden. When I'd emptied the jar I was reluctant to buy a new one as they aren't cheap, and it got used up quite quickly. So I checked the ingredients and decided I could make my own blend up quite easily. Black and pink peppercorns, dried onion and garlic, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, celery seeds, and some dried herbs which seldom get used. A teaspoon of coarse sea salt - and Robert was indeed your father's sibling! This amount filled one and a half jars'

They now grace my newly tidied spice shelves, along with the basil, wild garlic, and mixed herb salts I made up a few days ago. I do love my shelves. I know that's sad, but I get great satisfaction out of seeing all my bits and bobs (there he is again!) lined up. I'm determined to pick blackberries this autumn and jam them.

 I went for a walk in the sunshine the other day, just round the village.

As I wandered nearer to the edge of the village I noticed a lane I hadn't been down before, which led into a small wood. There was a stream running through, with several planked 'bridges' to cross.

It wasn't a particularly salubrious looking stream, very copper - coloured so no doubt polluted with something or other.

However, it was a jolly nice walk, and good to find a little bit of village wilderness! Had it not been a beautiful sunny day I doubt whether the idea of walking through the wood would have appealed.

Here you see the results of my first attempt at sourdough. What a palaver! Luckily I didn't have to make the starter from scratch, my music friend Marj had one on the go - she is a recent trier-outer of this method. Next day I made the 'sponge', which was left overnight in the fridge.  The following day I added flour salt and sugar and water to the sponge and kneaded it - I have to say it is a beautiful dough to work with. This then sat to prove for 3-4 hours, knocked back and shaped into batons and left to rise a further 3 hours. Quick-bread it aint! Into a hot oven for 30 minutes. We had the result today for lunch - well some of it. I had a shop-bought sourdough loaf to compare it with. According to Jim and Mike mine was better but then they'd have to say that, wouldn't they! Personally mine could have been a bit lighter, less dense, though it wasn't 'solid'. Lovely flavour, which is what all the long proving is about.

This is the crumb - the shop-bought one had larger holes, less tightly packed as it were. I am quite pleased with it.However it isn't the kind of bread you make on a whim. I'm not sure I'd want to be trying to think ahead all the time to make sure I was at the right stage. But it is lovely bread. Well, I shall keep feeding my 'starter' and see how it goes. Anyone else have any experience of sourdough baking?  And here below we have a couple of plain white mini-bloomers. Bog standard, but just like a lovely crusty roll. 

Make the most of this sunshine I think we are in for a blustery weekend, to say the least!

PS I don't believe this! Having ten minutes read while supper is bubbling away to itself - reading a Katie Fforde book. The two girls are out for a woodland hack.

"Oh look, wild garlic," says Zoe. "It's late for that, isn't it?"
"I suppose it depends where it's growing. I made some great pesto with it the other day." said Jenny.

This stuff is following me about!!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Friday Jaunts

Friday was the beginning of this wonderful warm sunny spell we are enjoying, and I was itching to get out and about. Now regular readers will know that I am not the world's most active of people, but there are times when even I feel the desire to stride out - even if I don't stride very fast or very far! I am trying to improve my record..........

My Friday jaunt began in the early afternoon when I went for 'afternoon tea' with a new bloggy friend Maggie - visit her blogs A reading corner, and A corner by the fireside. Maggie and I started visiting each others blogs some time ago, playing the guessing game as to where in Norfolk we each lived. Eventually we realised we lived quite near to each other, and made arrangements to meet up. I didn't take my camera as I thought it might be rude! However I'm kicking myself now as Maggie has a lovely garden which you would love; it has several features which I would LOVE to incorporate into our garden but it is never going to happen - the Mister does the gardening (apart from the herbs) and if he doesn't like something I've suggested it doesn't happen! I think it is one of the few areas in our relationship where I have to grit my teeth and walk away! So, no lovely gravel garden, like Maggie's, no raised beds, no fruit trees. But hey, it's not worth arguing about in the final analysis; we are not going to fall out over it! Mind you I did gaze at Maggie's garden and sigh. I went expecting to have a quick cuppa and go - but it was two and a half hours later that Maggie and I said goodbye, having had one of those chats which you have when you 'click' with someone straight away.

On the way home I decided to get out and stretch my legs, and do a bit of foraging; I had come armed with plastic bag and scissors!

I parked the car and began my stroll. This was not, I have to say, a jog or even a brisk walk! Can you guess where I was going?

If you look closely you will spot the wild garlic. I've no idea how it came to be here, in such abundance, within a very specific area.

This is the actual corner of Onion Corner, and marks the boundary of the Ramsons' territory.

I think these might be previously coppiced willows, now left to become overgrown, unused. They spread throughout the whole of the ramsons wood.

Walked past these lovely chaps, how wonderful to live down the road from the field where your horses are contentedly cropping the fresh spring grass, with a couple of easily accessible bridle-paths on your doorstep.

See, Norfolk isn't as flatas folks think!And there are bigger hills than this! Looking in the rough direction of Sandringham.

                               Looking like blossom, these are small pale catkins.

I call this, whimsically, the River Withywindle, just a small stream, really, meandering through the ramsons and the willows. There was a duck gently cruising along when I approached but he had floated out of view by the time I had pointed and clicked!

On my way back I stopped to gather another bagful of wild garlic. I noted yesterday that the editor of The Independent has been reading my blog, as there was a 2-page spread on the topic, with a few recipes. You see, I've gone viral!

Once home the leaves were washed, dried and stored in the fridge, and yesterday I whipped up these goodies in about an hour, including clean-up.

In this batch of wild garlic pesto I used pine-nuts, almonds, and a mixture of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, instead of the usual pine nuts, or the cashew nuts I used last time. I also replaced the parmesan cheese with some extra strong mature cheddar.

Two for the fridge and  four for the freezer. So far we have eaten it mixed with hummus on soda bread or crisp-bread, in minestrone soup, and as the base of a sauce for our Saturday Night Pasta. Mmmmm!

And taking a leaf (!) out of Independent columnist Mark Hix's article,  I dried the remaining leaves in the cooling oven, crumbled them and ground them with some chunky sea salt. So my ramsons  will be flavouring our food long after their growing season has passed. I know there has been a lot of interest in my wild garlic gatherings, I hope you have managed to find some near you and you have been experimenting too! Enjoy the rest of this lovely weekend.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Slow food, slow growth.

This photograph was taken on the 25th April 2012. See the abundant muscari, with their cheerful miniature blue flowers. Notice the height of the mint in the planter in the foreground. And observe the lush growth of lovage at the side of the planter and standing quite tall at the very back of the photograph.

I took this photograph today. Notice the few stunted muscari, and the newly emerging lovage shoots.

And here the few brave mint shoots poking their heads above the parapet! How different from last year. I wonder what other implications the long cold winter and slow spring will have for us on the food front?

Following on from my foraging trip last post, I got very busy in the kitchen as wild garlic wilts very quickly, and I didn't want my haul to go to waste. I decided to make a variety of 'foodie' items loosely following the recipes in Simple Things, a magazine I occasionally buy; although pricey it has excellent articles and recipes, and is a 'keeper'.

I made wild garlic butter:

Wild garlic oil - this is stored in a dark place for 18 days then filtered and re-bottled. It will keep for 9 months in the fridge or 2 at room temperature.

And wild garlic pesto. This will keep for 3 weeks in the fridge. (I bet it will keep a bit longer, I have covered it well with olive oil) I've also frozen some.

The more you chop or crush herbs the more pungent they become; as a leaf wild garlic is quite mild, like a faintly garlicky chive, but once crushed - oh! My word. Talk about blow your socks off! Very peppery, much hotter than rocket or watercress. In fact I will have to let each spoonful down with more oil before use. I did however mix some with hummus for my lunch today, on homemade bread and it was delicious. You could also add it to cream cheese, which would be fabulous. I'm thinking...perhaps add a dollop to a tomatoey or creamy pasta sauce ....ooooh yes!

I just need to tell you a bit about wild garlic as some folks have been asking on Facebook.

Ramsons - common name.  Allium Ursinum - Latin name. Other common names are legion: Buckrams, wood garlic, Bear's garlic, broad-leaved garlic, and others.
Native to Central and western Europe. Thrives in woodland, moist, slightly acidic soils. Prolific spreader! Onion-like perennial, small white flowers which appear in May-June, by which time the leaves have become somewhat bitter.

Good for a plethora of ills: respiratory conditions, vasodilator and antiseptic. Reduces high blood pressure, is a good spring tonic for immune system, liver, gall bladder, stomach and intestine. Topical application useful for arthritic and rheumatic joints.

So there you are, go forth and forage!

My latest bread making was a bit of a visual disaster, as I was going for the 'slow food' approach and trying to let it rise long and slow, but I over-proved it and it collapsed in the oven. However, I can tell you, don't ever be dismayed if the same happens to you because it tasted wonderful!

And to continue the 'slow' theme, a quick look at some 'slow cloth' ... from the inside too!

Hope by the time next blog post is written this wind will have dropped - fed up with it now! At least the sun has been shining, and hopefully most of us will have a good weekend.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Gigs and Garlic

Well, the weather 'turned' just in time! Despite a howling, gale -force wind, the sun shone and the temperature got up to 21 degrees in our neck of the woods - it didn't feel like that because of the wind, but how astounding for it to change like that overnight!

The Ouse Washes Molly Dancers danced out at the Haverhill Arts Centre before the Spiers and Boden gig; or, as we like to say, we opened for Spiers and Boden! We had quite a good crowd which gathered to watch and listen, we played from 7pm until about 7.40. Halfway through I noticed John Spiers standing on the steps grinning across at us, fortunately for my fiddle playing I didn't spot Jon Boden!

Three of the OWM musos, Jan, Nicky Stockman (head girl!) and me. The bilious coloured walls were actually greener than that, sorry, it looks a bit alarming! The unfinished jacket passed muster.

We got several mentions throughout the concert - and a few strange glances from those in the audience who hadn't seen the dancing, as we were still more or less in Molly kit when we sat down - minus the blackened faces and hats, of course! It was a great gig, though fairly restrained as it is an all-seated venue - nothing like those rowdy Bellowhead gigs!

 I managed to sneak a couple of photos - John Spiers did say not to take photos while he was playing difficult tunes as he pulled strange faces! Nice to know even the best of us do the feared 'Melodeon Face'. (I am training myself not to do it but you never know!)

So there you are, that's my latest claim to fame.I've just noticed on the back of my ticket where the price should be it says "Complimentary Artist List". Phew, tuppence to talk to me now, folks! I don't know, Andy Cutting, John Spiers, I'm becoming a veritable Melodeon Stalker! Two very different box players, playing very different types of music.

I like garlic. I like it a lot. I use it a lot. I just can't grow it. I have tried, but with little success, which is a great blow to me, as I do grow many herbs with no problems. Over the past year or so I've been having a garlicky conversation via face book with my Burwell Bash fiddle friend Thelma. Thelma lives in Yorkshire and grows oodles of garlic, and she's given me a few few tips here and there. This year she even sent me - by first class mail - some garlic shoots for me to transplant I've no idea how well I will do with them, but I've given it my best shot. We did also talk about wild garlic - also known as Ramsons, and by coincidence I read an article in a magazine recently all about wild garlic.

 Suddenly I remembered local folk-lore about a lane where wild garlic grows in such profusion you can smell it before you see it.

This lane is about a mile away, and though it is called something else on the maps, it is known as Onion Corner. I was on my way to visit my mum today, and thought I would take a slight detour to find some wild garlic. You really couldn't miss it. The aroma is quite pungent, and the plants grow in abundance; I felt no guilt about chopping a good handful of the aromatic green leaves.

                                                            Swathes of the stuff!

 I shall go back when they are in flower and gather some seed - I just know they will do well in our garden.

So I shall be preserving ramsons leaves in oil, as herb butter in the freezer, and as wild garlic pesto.

You can forage for wild garlic in damp, woodland areas. You can't mistake the leaves, the smell will tell you pretty quickly. Once the flowers are out the leaves become 'older' and slightly bitter, so pick now before the flowers appear. I hope the weather continues mild and sunny for your foraging!