30 June 2013

new pots

The early potatoes are ready.  The peas too.  And the lettuce will be going to seed soon if it stays warm. So we dashed home to eat them for lunch with home made blender mayonnaise and organic eggs. Perhaps there was a little bit too much mustard in the mayo.  Everything else was perfect.

Now back to do the watering before the sun goes down. Hope you had a lovely day.

27 June 2013

trying:: three

We are one lesson away from the end of term at the "soft tailoring" class. One three hour lesson to put in an invisible zip and turn up the hem before I wear this frock to a wedding party. Take my word, it will be done and there will be pictorial evidence.

I cannot believe how long this project has taken, or more to the point the wretched neckline. I made a muslin so that I could adjust the pattern before I cut out the fabric. The back was adjusted (who knew I had a narrow back?). Measurements were checked to make sure that it would fit snugly and I would sew carefully so it would all be perfect. After all, I had plenty of time. Three hours weekly in a well equipped classroom, top notch Berninas, industrial overlockers, professional cutting tables, a steam presser fit to compete with a dragon, a knowledgeable teacher who could remember exactly what you were up to and what the pitfalls were, encouraging co-students. All was exactly as it should be.

But, but, but.... somehow, those little sweetheart curves weren't loving me, weren't quite prefect. Eventually they looked fine and I thought it was safe to put in the lining. This time the three pleats at the neckline weren't quite even, just a slight extra fullness on one side. It just wouldn't do. Do you know how irritating it is to adjust neckline pleats when the lining has been sewed in? You start unpicking; you put it down. You realise you need to pick out some more. You mark the spot where the tailor tacks should be. You tack. You undo. You re-tack. You sew awkwardly. You measure one side against the other. You realise one of the seams is half a centimetre too short.  It needles you. You finally get it right.  And you learn that next time round when one side doesn't look quite right, it really will not magically work once you have put the lining in.

My mum would scoff at all this. I still tense up at the thought of her commanding insistence and my tears when, up against the clock, she would adjust a wonky neckline with a pair of cold, heavy, not to say sharp, shears against my skin. Looking back I realise that the results, measured by eye, without a pattern,  were amazing.  Unfortunately, I have neither her intuition or experience when it comes to creating a confection of frills and pleats and embellishments from a flat piece of cloth. So I conscientiously examine layouts and instructions, carefully measure and mark, laboriously follow seam allowances, sit up in bed reading the Colette pattern book and Adele Margolis, lurk around sewing blogs.

It takes 9000 hours of practice to become a genius I hear.  Three hours a week, 30 weeks a year.  Only another century of classes then. And I still haven't finished the dress I started last term.

25 June 2013

trying:: two

My spring cabbages - note the word "spring"and try not to snigger - are not showing much inclination to heart up. Beautiful though they are, and I do so like their crinkly leaves and stalwart nature, at the moment they are completely overcrowding my shallots and tomatoes, and let's face it, those just can't be doing with being bullied after the sad start they've had this year. As I've been trying to eat more healthily and make better use of everything on the allotment, I've been searching for recipes that might allow me to harvest the outer leaves, while still leaving the plant in situ in case, just in case, they do fill out. I flicked through a book I don't really use often enough, Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook, and found the perfect solution, a risotto of spring greens. Doesn't excite you? I suggest you give it a try. Ours was both pretty and delicious. What's more, it actually feels as if it is doing you good. And that can't be a bad thing, surely, when you have given up beer and wine in an attempt to identify exactly what it is that is making you feel rubbish when you wake up in the morning?

Spring greens risotto

Risotto is a doddle.  The only ingredient that changes is the vegetable. I don't use butter - this is meant to be a healthy dish.  Homemade stock if available, and a glass of cheap vermouth make up the liquid element. And depending on the vegetable, I often add the juice of half a lemon to give the ristotto a bit of bite. So really this is more of a Sarah Raven inspired risotto.

A Risotto of Spring Greens

A glug of olive oil                       
A large onion
Some garlic cloves and half a red chilli, chopped finely
250g arborio rice
Salt and pepper
180g of finely sliced spring cabbage leaves, blanched for 2/3 minutes (I use a blast of the microwave)
A wine glass of white vermouth or wine, topped up with water if nec.
About 750 ml of stock, brought to the boil in a separate pan
Parmesan to taste
Juice of half a lemon

You probably know how to make risotto already, but just in case: start off by gently sauteing the onion, garlic and chilli in the oil until the onion is translucent.  Add the rice until covered in oil and swirl around until well covered in oil, then add greens and seasoning followed by the vermouth/wine*.  The trick then is to let the alcohol evaporate, and then add the hot stock a little at a time until the rice is plump and but not too soft and there is a very slight slooshiness to the risotto ( this liquid disappears in the hot pan I find).  Add parmesan and lemon juice to taste and serve.

* Raven only adds half here, and adds the remainder at the end.  I'll have to try that one day.

While I'm waxing on about food, a quick word about the food swap at our WI meeting last week. When one of our foodie members suggested the swap having read about it online, I was a bit sceptical about whether we could pull it off.  But we did, albeit in a simplified fashion, and lots of people made the effort to bring in home grown or home made food and preserves. Since then we've feasted here on  home made tomato ketchup and mayo, and have given as gifts  bartered coconut madeira cake and Irish tea loaf.  I was in two minds about a lentil salad I took in exchange for a jar of jam, but just like it said on the box, it was the best lentil salad ever and an introduction to a new food blog too.

I'm still on the look out for healthy recipes for greens and I'm about to have a glut of lettuces if the temperature goes up today as forecast. Any advice gratefully received.

24 June 2013


When it comes to dirt, dust, and disturbance, it has been more than a little trying here. There is much building work going on next door which has entailed dozens of skips and mini-diggers, bashing and banging, and dirt, lots of dirt. The last couple of days clouds of dust have enveloped the bathroom, rising up through the floorboards and settling in a fine layer over everything horizontal. Even the cats are starting to cough. There is only one solution in such cirumstances really: get out.  

We kicked off the day after the cake judging episode with a wonderful day cycling around to six local gardens during Open Gardens Weekend, kicking off with a mature hospice garden of great accomplishment (above). From there we went to Zander community club garden where gardening sits alongside bingo and stained glass. We then climbed to the roof garden of a local school where we could admire the giant cut-out rabbits they'd found in a skip and the Year 7 pupils tried to teach us how make origami birds.

Oaklands School Roof Garden

We moved on to a community allotment on the Cranbrook Estate, set up by two formidable women who wanted to do something with a neglected bit of lawn in the middle of the estate and. In this tiny space at the centre of the blocks of flats, volunteers of any age can pop in when they have some spare time. Anybody who helps out can take something home, and excess produce is sent for sale to a local shop. We didn't leave empty handed ourselves either.  We were persuaded to buy some cabbage plant from two young boys who, when quizzed, told us that their sales skills came from watching The Apprentice.  Hmm.

Cranbrook Community Garden

We then visited an amazing organic garden at the bottom of this tower block with wind from turbulence which must be more than trying...

Winterton House, E1

...where two retired men have driven out the rats and orchestrated the production of  Winterton House Organic Garden, a beautiful formal garden, behind which there are mini-allotments, miniature chickens, pretty hens and rabbits.

Winterton House Organic Garden

Winterton House Hens

Our tour ended at the mature Cable Street Community Gardens, where a vibrant community of gardeners maintain a lovely space with an old cobbled road running through it and bounded by railway arches, a school, a convent.  It is a hectic green space, with one allotment entirely covered by flowers, some completely orderly, and others pell-mell with trees and bushes and ponds.  

Cable Street Community Gardens
We were tired and totally exhilarated  by the time we got home.  We'd eaten cake and curry, drunk lots of tea, bought  second hand books, seedlings and plants and, amazingly, met someone we knew at every location. I was deeply impressed by the commitment of people to make a green, productive space in challenging, unusual spaces.  They didn't just try, they succeeded.  Must bear that in mind.

09 June 2013

a first

Open Garden Squares weekend has turned out to be quite demanding. The Spring Fair at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park required some serious baking and a few hours of dedicated cake cutting on Saturday morning.  It was a good warm up session for an afternoon at the wonderful Abbey Gardens Vintage Garden Party where I was judging the Victoria Sponge competition. See how I just dropped that in as if it was something I did everyday? When did I manage to develop the demeanour of someone who knows about sponges when really I'm more of a fruit cake type? Perhaps it's the pearls...which I wore of course,.

Back to Abbey Gardens. I love Abbey Gardens - the long narrow beds filled to bursting with hearty brassicas and artichokes, the patches of poppies, the espaliered trees, the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the honesty stall where you can buy healthy little plantlets. And yesterday, nestled at the back of the cake stall, four Victoria Sponges waiting to be judged. Such a responsibility. 

It turned out not to be too onerous a task with a clear winner - a firm, moist sponge, easy to cut, a light dusting of icing sugar, enough raspberry jam without overwhelming the sponge. The winner was delighted with her rosette, as were the runners up and there was a round of applause for all.

When all the clapping was over, I settled down for a piece of cake.  Rhubarb, as it happens.