29 September 2010

granny squares and glutney

My mum says they dazzle her eyes, and my niece only likes the squares that are pink.  The girls at Prick Your Finger asked whether it was finished yet when I went in there yet again to delve down their £1 a ball sacj.  Even though it has felt like an obsession, it still isn't finished. There are squares that were crocheted when I was on the beach and look like sky, sea and sand and others that were done after days out that are the colours of ice cream and blackberries.  There is even one inspired by the rug they are laid out on.  I have scoured the seaside charity shops of Kent, Suffolk and Sussex to find yarn.  Much has been brought home and discarded.  I've got as far as one hundred and three squares, a nice prime number.  Five more to go and I will be able to start tidying up the last few squares, sewing it together and deciding on an edging.  Is it any wonder that I as still languishing on the letter G after the whole of September?

As respite I have been making glutney, a Hugh F-W recipe, from outsized courgettes, over-ripe tomatoes and apples though I've obviously got squares on the brain to judge by the gingham overkill.  

We have not even started on the green tomatoes yet.  We had the best crop of toms ever this year using these seeds  - the Costoluto Fiorentino were the best I have ever tasted - and they remained blight free until a week or so ago when the September damp settled in.  So for good measure, let me offer a link to the tomato recipe that has sustained us for the last month, one that takes about 10 minutes to make (between crocheting and making chutney).  Yotam Ottolenghi's Tomato Galette may sound more like a dance than a dish, but it is really rather gorgeous.  And it isn't square.

28 September 2010


Feathers on the beach, Hastings

There were so many things that I could have chosen.  The fire that we had the other night, despite my wanting to hold against against the change of seasons; the iron fish pressed into an asphalt path marking out a walk by the shore at Lowestoft a couple of weeks ago; the fruit foraged this weekend on the Isle of Sheppey, now made into jelly, and mixed with gin; the fluffy fur coat (wool and mohair, really) that I bought second hand on holiday and can't wait to wear when the weather gets colder.  Or the flask that we took with us filled with hot water to make tea. We drank it sitting in the car - in a car park, no less, with our egg and cress sandwiches - listening to the results of the Labour leadership. Eat your heart out Martin Parr, I say.

What swung it though was stopping on the marshes on Saturday and setting off a marsh harrier that was close by, being close enough to see those fine feathers at the end of his wings silhouetted against the sky as he rose then watching him soar up and out, seem to stop in the air, and fly on.  Too hard for me to capture on film, I just can't get that picture out of my head.

I will have to make do with the fake feathers of the new egg cup which should probably have been logged as d for duck; or like the owl here, e for egg cup.

24 September 2010

elephants go...

Painting on cloth, from charity shop, now on my wall
...like this, like that.
Jute elephant, present to young John, on bathroom mantelpiece
They're terribly tall, they're terribly fat.

Present from Mythily for good luck, allotment shed
But gracious what a nose.

23 September 2010

dahlias, dogs and dips

You may already know how much I like dahlias, and how I suffer from dahlia envy.  This one, alas, is not grown by me.  I bought a bunch at the Mudchute Community Fun Day on Sunday where our allotment society had a stall, a very attractive stall, a stall with a diversity of fruit and vegetables ranging from mundane potatoes, beetroot, carrots to more exotic offerings - winter melon, pak choi, jelly bean lookalike goji berries, celtuce and enormous gourds that may have been mo qua.  There was even - and I can hardly believe this myself - watercress.

John was chief stylist responsible for setting up the stall and I sat dutifully by explaining what everything was to our visitors, handing out goji berries and working on my crochet in the lulls. I say this as if it was a chore but not at all. I really enjoyed chatting to everyone - the Spanish photographer who was desperate to buy some tomatoes because, she said, it was so hard to find good ones for sale; the Polish couple who knew all about the vitamin content of goji berries; the eccentric lady who was wheeling her be-ribboned cat around in netted buggy. Later in the afternoon, someone was press ganged into judging the veg (move over Joe Grundy) and a heap of rosettes were handed out. As only seven people had bothered to contribute stuff to the stall, the competition was not exactly stiff.

A first in show was not hard to come by.. My string of onions got a rosette and, bizarrely, one of our potatoes, just for being huge. The dish in the middle was given a rosette for looking good, though I have to say my tomatoes and yellow courgettes and Dave's green peppers and cherry toms made a rather stunning combo.  Brenda's dinner-plate sized dahlias scooped a first for best flowers.

Prizes for the cakes and preserves on the stall next to us were awarded on a rather more democratic basis. We were all offered a taste of each of the chutneys, jams and cakes and rosettes were handed out for those that got the most favourable comments. By common consent, the runner bean chutney, made using this recipe, was voted most delicious of all.

As for the dog, I can only assume it got a rosette for being smallest dog because I saw a huge hairy German Shepherd and he had one too.

I guess summer really has ended now that the harvest is in though I'm holding out as long as I can before I cover my bare legs.  I had one last dip in the sea yesterday.  Goodness me, it was chilly.

12 September 2010

a surprise c

I had thought that my letter C would be something domestic - like cats, or even crochet, which has become a bit of an obsession lately.  But I think a chance comment by Shandy asking whether I ever thought of sleeping under hedges any more must have been simmering away in my sub-conscious because I could not get the thought of camping out of my head.  However, I'm not sure I'm quite up to hedge-kipping these days, so we invested in a bargain tent, found a camp site and went off for a couple of days warm up in Kent. Then, looking for somewhere in Suffolk, I found a lovely spot with a couple of furnished static tents in a small wood where we could make fires,  look out across the fields first thing in the morning, stare up at the Milky Way at night, listen to the rain dripping from the oak tree on our last night, and watch the pheasants from our bed in the morning.  Boutique camping it wasn't; but everything was there that we might need, with beautiful pottery plates, mugs and cups, and a tiny camouflaged caravan for a bathroom along the lane.  There's not much light around after nine these days, so we lit the tiny stove in our bell tent each night and snuggled for..was it really ten hours sleep? I think it was.  On our last night our landlady made us a blackberry crumble and shared last year's glorious sloe gin with us.  It was a feast in every sense of the word and I feel very lucky to have had such a good time.

As for hedge-kipping again... never say never, I say.

02 September 2010


A couple of Saturdays ago when sun was forecast for the morning and rain for the late afternoon, we cycled up to Walthamstow Marshes to pick blackberries before the crowds of foragers arrived.  We managed several pounds before the rain came, with a vengeance.  We got drenched on the way home, hence no photos of pretty blackberries. The sacrifice was worth it because those blackberries went a long way.   Mixed with redcurrants and raspberries, we made a summer pudding of such ruby glossiness that we got out the best china and poured a glass of fizzy wine to go with it.  (There are lots of recipes around but you might like to look at the one on this rather lovely and very WI blog.)

Then there was the Heath Robinson excitement of making bramble jelly.  I followed Marguerite Patten's instructions, which included making a jelly bag and finding a suitable stool from which to suspend it while the thick purple juice from my 2lb of blackberries filtered through.

Those elastic bands abandoned by our postman came in handy because the bag was miles too big for the amount of blackberries I had.  

Unlike the murderously stained jelly bag, the resulting jelly is gorgeous looking, positively jewel-like, but is a little sweeter than it should be because I misread the recipe and added a bit too much sugar - it should be 1lb of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to each pint of juice.  I ended up with two jars of jelly, not much after all that, but the fiddle-faddle was fun.

The alchemist in me was on a roll.  Inspired by Knit-Nurse's acidic adventures - many thanks! - I also mixed up some blackberry vinegar.  What I liked about this was stirring it up over several days until it was ready to bottle. Sheer simplicity, immensely versatile and intriguingly flavoursome. And you know what, there were even enough blackberries to make muffins, two dozen of them over a couple of days.  

They disappeared like magic too.

01 September 2010

a is for ...

I don't think I mentioned what a lovely time I had with my friend at the seaside. She'd rented a large flat looking out over the beach and invited me to stay for a few days. I thought at first that I would not be able to sleep with the constant sound of the waves outside the window and the first night I dreamt of having to escape from floods but soon I found myself looking forward to being lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the waves below.  Swims before breakfast, running down to the sea with only a towel over our cozzies, sitting on chairs on the beach, bacon rolls or egg sandwiches at the promenade cafe, testing cream teas and ices around the town, fish and chips on the pier or taking our supper to eat on the bench overlooking the sea: these soon became our daily rituals.  Only today I read somewhere that people in this country are natural grazers, with more snacking opportunities throughout the day than most other Europeans - I think we made use of all of them.  Our outings took us as far as the local museum, trips to the market or junk shops, taking the rowing boat ferry across the river, climbing the church tower at a  local fete to look out over the town and taking tea in the church hall, a night at the cinema to watch Laurel and Hardy, Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford.   After dark we would watch the rabbits come out of the cliffs and hop around in the road, play scrabble or do the so-called quick crossword until midnight.

C and I have been friends since we were twelve.  She read the primary school report I posted last week, said how different it was to hers when she was younger and wondered how we ever became friends.  Put it down to yin and yang.  All of which brings me to the acorn, one that caught my eye as I walked along the path to our allotments. You see, my friend teaches children and has a thing about alphabets.  So I thought  I would create an alphabet over the next few weeks as a little thank you gift.  And with apologies that "acorn" is not particularly good for teaching children as it does not start with a phonetic letter "a",  I offer instead that from little acorns...