Friday, 31 December 2010

And A Happy New Year

So this should be a post looking back on 2010, and looking forward to 2011. But I've never been the kind of fox who makes new year resolutions or picks over the past. 2010 was full of joy and misery, good days with the sun on my back and a spade in my hand, and bad days when it felt like my heart would just stop beating. 2011 will probably be similar, only I'll have cleared more rubble from the garden.

The snow has finally melted, and the ground is very, very squelchy. Still, I managed to get a bit of time in outside to check over the soggy mess that is my garden. The snow was sudden and unexpected, so a lot of things have been killed (and despite storing my geraniums and alstromerias in the polytunnel, the -18C temperatures were too much). But I'm optimistic, and won't chuck everything in the compost yet. We'll see what happens in spring.

But when the skies are filled with tentacles and we're battling giant radioactive scorpions, there will still be parsnips. And turnips. And even my beloved beetroot. After a month of freezing nights, dense fog and snow, I expected all my root veg to have turned to mush. But no, they're all fine.
And they. Are. Huge!

Currently in the oven, with mustard and maple syrup. Yum!

I may seriously consider using the Lincolnshire parsnip as a unit of measurement.

Once these guys have been eaten (with a tamale bake, om nom nom), MikeyFox & myself will wrap ourselves up nice and cosy, and venture across the fields to our local pub (an hours walk away, but it's a lovely one) and will get slightly squiffy.

Happy New Year, folks. May the new year treat you kindly.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

In the morning MikeyFox & myself will be venturing out to the far reaches of Nottinghamshire to spend time with the in-laws.
MikeyFox have had our midwinter celebration, exchanged gifts (I will no doubt enthuse at a later date about my lovely gifts. Sorry) and eaten lots of Stilton. It was fab.
So to those of you celebrating, have a fabulous day. To those of you not celebrating, wrap up warm & try not to be driven mad by the crap on TV.

I'll leave you with the most festive thing I can think of - El Vez!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


The Winter Solstice is the moment when the Earth is furthest from the sun. The shortest day & the longest night of the year. For the first time in almost 400 years, the solstice has coincided with a Lunar eclipse, which is why I was out in the -9 temperatures wearing every woollen item I owned at stupid o'clock in the morning and watching the horizon turn from inky black to wine red (either one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen, or a harbinger of the apocalypse*).

When the sun came up, the fruit trees in the garden were blessed with cider (which they were kind enough to share) and honey biscuits (which the birds are currently devouring). When I'm done writing here, I'll go light the fire, and there will be a light burning until dawn tomorrow, when the days will start to grow longer, and spring will start to seem less like an old folk tale and more of a possibility.

The house is decorated with evergreen leaves & red ribbons, and there's an evening of eating, drinking & gift giving ahead. Tomorrow will be the start of a new year.

So to all you people out there, friends & strangers, whatever winter festivals you celebrate, may the coming year bring good health, more laughter than tears & love in all its forms.


*At least when Azathoth & His Pennywhistle Of Chaos comes to play us to our suitably gruesome end, there will be pretty lights.

Friday, 10 December 2010

There's So Much You Can Learn When You're On A Pachyderm

Though Pachyderm is an obsolete term for Elephant, the genus Elephantidae being the taxonomic classification preferred these days. Those crazy biologists.

I found the scrap of paper with the a-bit-complicated-but-nonetheless-awesome crochet pattern on it, so today we have a crocheted


Adorable, no?
This was made with 1 big ball of basic grey DK yarn using a 4mm crochet hook (go fancier if you want to). You need some stuffing (I used kapok, but cotton wool or scraps of rags will do). You'll need a small amount of felt or fabric in pink (for the mouth), grey (for the feet) and white (for the tusks), and button eyes at the end too. You could faff about with tension squares & whatnot, but to be honest, if you want to make a bigger one, use a chunkier yarn & a larger crochet hook. If you want an ickle one, use a finer yarn & a smaller crochet hook. Enough incomprehensible drivel, onto the pattern!

Okay, this pattern starts off with the trunk, increasing to make the face, neck & then the main body of the elephant. It will look wrong. And weird. But trust me, it is an elephant, they just look kind of freaky without ears. The legs & ears are made separately, then it's all sewn together at the end.

Chain 10 & slip stitch into the first chain to make a ring.
R(ound)1 Chain 1, then dc into each chain (working in back loop only), then slip stitch into the first dc & turn. You should have 10 stitches there.
R2 Chain 1, dc into first stitch, then 2dc together 4 times. 1 dc in last stitch, then slip stitch into the first dc & turn. You should have 6 stitches there.
R3-7 Chain 1, then 1dc in each stitch, then slip stitch into the first dc & turn.
You've just made the trunk!
R8 Chain 1, then 2dc in the first stitch. Then 1 dc in all the stitches but the last one, which needs 2dc in it. slip stitch into 1st stitch & turn. You should have 8 stitches now.
R9-11 Repeat R8. You should have 14 stitches by the end.
r12 Chain 1, then 1dc in each stitch to the end. Don't join this time (as the mouth is being created here), but remember to turn.
R1 Chain 1, then 2dc in each stitch. Turn.(28 stitches here)
R2 Chain 1, then 1dc in each stitch to the end. Turn.
R3 (a complicated bit with lots of increasing & shaping!) Chain 1, then 1dc in the first 9 stitches, then 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, 1dc in the next 6 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and finally 1dc in each of the last 9 stitches 9so you started with 28, and should end with 32 stitches)
R4 Chain 1, then 1dc in the next 9 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 4 stitches, 1dc in each of the next 6dc, 2dc in each of the next 4dc, and finally 1dc in each of the last 9 stitches. Phew! You did brilliantly, and deserve a cup of tea. You should have started with 32, and ended up with 40 stitches there.
R5-6 Nothing scary here, just 2 rows of good old dc, remembering to chain 1 at the start & turn at the end.
Chain 1, then 1dc in next stitch. 2dc together 3 times, then 1dc in each of the next 26 stitches, then 2dc together 3 times, then 1dc in the last stitch (a crochet palindrome!)
Join the last 3 stitches & the first 3 stitches of your last row with 1dc. Chain 1, then dc in each stitch, and slip stitch into the first dc to form a round, then turn. You've just made a little elephant mouth!
To celebrate, work 4 rounds of dc, remembering to chain 1 at the start & turn at the end.
Neck (another tricky bit. Sorry)
R1 Chain 1, then 2dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 1dc in each of the next 5 stitches, 2dc together twice, then 1dc in each of the next 4 stitches, 2dc together twice, 1dc in the next 5 stitches, 2dc in the final 3 dc, and finally slip stitch into the first dc & turn.
R2 Chain 1, then 2dc in each of the first 3 stitches, then 1dc in each stitch until you get to the last 3 stitches, which need 2dc in each stitch. Slip stitch into the first dc & turn (you should have 36 stitches here.
R3 Chain 1, 1 dc in each of the next 2dc, then 2dc in next stitch. Repeat that bit twice (without the chain 1 obviously). 1dc in each stitch until the last 9 stitches, then 2dc in the next stitch & 1dc in the next 2 stitches. Repeat that last bit 2 more times, and then slip stitch into the first dc & turn. You should have 42 stitches now.
Work 11 rounds in good old dc, slipping into the first stitch & turning each time.
(Another tricksy bit) Chain 1, 1dc in first stitch, then 2dc in each of the next 3 stitches. 1dc in each stitch to the last 4 stitches, then 2dc in each of the next 3 stitches, and finally 1dc in the last stitch. Slip stitch & turn.
Work 6 rounds of dc. Sweet, no counting required dc.
This is a good time to fill the head & main body of the elephant with whatever stuffing you have (the, um, aperture at the end is kind of small)
R1 Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 15 stitches. 2dc together, 1dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and repeat 4 more times. 1dc in each of the last 13 stitches, then slip stitch & turn.
R2 Work in dc, slip stitch & turn.
R3 Chain 1, then dc in each of the next 3 stitches. 2dc together, then 1dc in each of the next 3 stitches. Repeat that (without the chain 1 & 3 dc, durr!) 7 times, slip stitch & turn (and pray that it's 35 stitches there).
R4 Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 2dc together, then 1dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and repeat 7 times. Slip stitch & turn (27 stitches now)
R5 Chain 1, 1dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 2dc together, 1 dc in each of the next 2 stitches & repeat 5 more times. Slip stitch & turn.
R6 Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 3 stitches. 2dc together 10 times, slip stitch & turn.
Finish any stuffing here, as we're about to close her up!
R7 Chain 1, then 1dc in the first stitch, then 2dc together 5 times.Slip stitch into first dc, but don't turn.
Chain 1, then 2dc together 3 times. Slip stitch, but don't turn, and dc 6 stitches in a spiral. Chain 3 & fasten off. Snip the yarn with an excess of an inch or so, and tease out the threads of the yarn to make a little tassely tail.

Front Legs
Chain 18, and slip stitch to form a ring (making sure it's not twisted). Work 3 rounds of dc, slip stitching & turning each time.
Chain 1, then dc in each of the first 5 stitches. 2dc together, then 1 dc in the next stitch 3 times. 1 dc in each of the last 4 stitches, slip stitch & turn.
Work 13 rounds in dc, slip stitch & turning each time. Fasten off & sew in ends.
Stitch the felty footpad in place, or crochet up a circle of suitable size.
Make another one.
Back Legs
Chain 18, and slip stitch to form a ring again. Work 3 rounds of dc, slip stitching & turning as usual.
Chain 1, then dc in each of the first 5 stitches. 2dc together, then 1dc in the next stitch 3 times. 1dc in each of the last 4 stitches, slip stitch & turn.
Work 11 rounds in dc, slip stitching & turning each time. bind off, and add footpads.
Make another one.

Chain 15. 1 dc in 2nd chain from hook, then 1dc in each chain (14 stitches).
Chain 1, then 2dc in each stitch to the end. Turn.
Chain 1, then then 1dc in each stitch to the end. Turn.
Chain 1, then 1dc in each of the first 9 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, 1dc in each of the next 6 stitches, 2dc in each of the next 2 stitches, and finally 1dc in each of the last 9 stitches.
Work a last round of dc & bind off.
Make another one.

Stuff the legs & stitch onto place on the body (making sure it all stands up!). Sew on the ears (the elephant will suddenly look like an elephant!). The elephants mouth needs a triangle of pink felt. Cut into shape & stitch into position, pulling the mouth into a shape you like. Roll white felt into two little cone shapes & stitch into place for the tusks. sew on eyes. (if making this for a small child, eyes & tusks can be embroidered on)

Woo, you have an elephant!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Crocheted Cat Toys!

It's still minus temperatures here in North Lincolnshire (-18 at about 6pm. Brr! But this morning it's a positivly toasty -4). Still, it's been a fortnight since we last had any refuse collections or post. Or even gritters (the only reason the roads are clear is a local farmer bodging together a makeshift plough out of a tractor & trundling around the village). It's enough to make a fox wonder what her council tax is being used on.

Okay, enough grumbling about the weather. I promised kitty toys!
These are really simple, and surprisingly quick to make. You can knit them in any colour you like, though cats respond to purple, blue, green & yellow (other colours they see as shades of grey). You can use pretty much any scraps of DK wool you have lying around. Aside from wool, and a 4mm crochet hook, all you need is a pair of scissors & maybe a wool needle.

Spider: Chain 4 & join to make a loop. Make 16 htr (hdc in the US) into the centre of the loop. It's a snug fit, but it will work! slip stitch into the first htr to form a circle. Chain 1, then dc (sc) into each of the 16 stitches. Slip stitch into the first stitch to make 16, then repeat (as in chain 1, then dc (sc) into each stitch etc). Chain 10 from that point where you did your last slip stitch, then dc (sc) your way back down the chain (you'll need to insert your crochet hook into the 3rd chain from the hook). Slip stitch into the next stitch on the left. Woo-hoo, you've made a leg! Only 7 more to go! Slip stitch into the next stitch on your left, and repeat the process of chaining & dc (sc) -ing your way back. See, the 16 stitches in the original circle get made into 8 legs. Nifty!
The legs are the slowest part, because it's all crocheting into a chain (the most annoying part of crochet. sorry!).
Once that's done, you have two options. You can stuff your little spider with a mixture of kapok & catnip, or you can leave it open. If you stuff it, close up the base with a htr (hdc) between each leg & pull tight (or using any method you prefer). Snip your yarn & weave in any loose bits. Finally, make a chain of suitable length (if your cat likes to get scratchy, make a long one!), and tie it to the top of your spider.

Octopus: The octopus is almost identical to the spider. The only difference is the body length (with the spider, it's two rows of dc (sc) to make the body, with the Octopus, it's 7 rows) and the leg length (with the spider it's a chain of 10, with the octopus a chain of 15). A bit of felt & sewing and you can have yourself a little bat-winged Cthulhu too!

Warning. No guarantee of cat participation.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

I know I promised you slightly-complicated-crochet pattern, but since I can't find the bit of paper it's written down on, it'll have to wait. Tomorrow there will be crocheted kitty toys instead.
It's still colder than a well-diggers arse here in North Lincolnshire. Yesterday it was -13 at 7am. Today -10. So that must mean that things are getting warmer, right? Also, the boiler leak has been located - hurrah! At some point this week the lovely Malcolm will come & fix it. Hurrah!

I have to confess, I have a terrible addiction to cooking shows. I blame my student days, when my housemates & I would slump on the floor of the room with the biggest TV in our student hovel and watch Fern Britton mumsy her way around wall-eyed 'celebrity' chefs (this is back when Ready Steady Cook was actually about teaching cooking techniques & recipes, rather than a backdrop for Ainsley Harriot to do... whatever the hell he's doing*). These days I'm more of a River Cottage & cuddly, soft-focus BBC half-hour long programmes kind of fox.

So I was slumped on the sofa with a cup of tea watching Nigella Lawson wafting around her soft-focus pseudo-kitchen making Chicken With 40 Cloves Of Garlic, and really wanted to try it.** This doesn't mean that I instantly abandoned my vegetarian principles & really wanted to tuck into some bird carcass (ugh! I haven't eaten meat in over 20 years, and I wasn't a fan of it to start with), or that I missed the flavour & texture of meat. But that it had been so long since I had eaten a hearty, warming casserole, something that required a knife and fork, and maybe some mashed potatoes on the side. Most of my cooking is stuff that can be eaten with just a fork or a spoon.
I remembered my pumpkin turkey roast success from November, and thought it can't be that hard to make something similar, but in smaller pieces. Anyway, I can't resist a pun, so:

Chickain't Pieces

Doesn't that appetising does it? Trust me, it's delicious! What? You don't believe me? Okay, what about this then?

Chickain't casserole with courgette, mushrooms & peas. It was delicious.

So how do you make it? It's pretty much the same as the Pumpkin Turkey recipe, only you divide the dough into 8 pieces. Wrap each piece in foil, squishing into whatever shape you fancy, then steam for 30 minutes. Then place in a baking tray & add a little hot water, just enough to cover the tray (so nothing burns) and bake 20-30 minutes. Leave to cool wrapped in the foil, and then unwrap. They freeze well, and you can bake them, fry them, roast them, slice them & stir fry them - anything you can think of really!

Om nom nom!

*Like a horrible mash-up of Baron Samedi from Live & let Die & The Swedish Chef from the Muppets.

**My actualy thought process was 'Hubb-hubba, ding-ding-ding, baby you got everything. Shame on me.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow & Scarves

The snow continues to fall in North Lincolnshire. And the council still haven't sent out any gritters or snow ploughs, instead leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Cheers, guys.
Still, it's funny how quickly you adapt to change. Every morning starts the same way: crawl unwillingly out of bed. Pile on clothes until you resemble the Michelin Man. Dig path from door to car. Dig path from car to road. Worry as Mikeyfox drives to work*, and dig a path for the cats to poop in the garden. Check the drains & pipes haven't frozen up & brush snow off the polytunnel. Then tramp back indoors & consume as much coffee & porridge until something resembling humanity is restored.
Still, snow is being admired, rolled around in & shovelled out of the way in equal measures.

So my last post was a bit of a vague non-pattern, and the next one will be a not-hard-but-not-easy crochet pattern, so I'll give you a break with something that's really easy to make - so easy that the most novicey of novices can knock up in no time - and looks much harder to make than it actually is. Woohoo!

At the risk of sounding like a shill, I'm basically raving about Katia, a Spanish yarn company that set itself up around 50 years ago with the aim of freshening up the wool industry, mainly by coming up with fun, funky & fashionable wools & yarns. The highlight of their Autumn/Winter range has been the glorious trinity of Ondas, Triana & Rizos - 3 novelty yarns that are actually lengths of netting or webbing (you knit into one edge of the netting, rather than with the whole strip, which is what gives you the big ruffly effect) rather than traditional yarn - that come in a range of colours, single toned or variegated, and knit up into lovely, frilly, ruffly, waterfall - style scarves (and really, they're just designed for making scarves).

My current favourite is the Ondas yarn (though Triana is a close second). It takes a little getting used to, as you have to stretch out the netting before you start to knit. But the results are lovely.
Oh, and this is the kicker - you don't have to know how to cast on to use them. How crazy is that?!
So whats the downside? Well, they're not cheap. a ball of Ondas (which will make one scarf) will cost around £6, Triana around £7 & Rizos around £8 (depending on where you shop)

Your local knitting shop should have them in stock if you fancy giving it a whirl. Or you can order online from various places (I will, however, take this opportunity to plug my local woolshop Tricot in Scunthorpe, lovely people full of helpful advice who'll bend over backwards to feed your knitty addiction) & they're also cropping up on eBay.

And no, I'm not getting paid for this!

Almost completed scarf. Eee!

Okay, enough getting giddy over wool. Hope you're all keeping warm & well where you are!

*15 miles away on ungritted country roads. While his co-workers who live less than 3 miles from the brewery stay home because its 'too snowy'.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Don't Shoot The Messenger (Bag)

North Lincolnshire is currently buried underneath snow. It's the lovely, light, fluffy kind of snow that doesn't form snowballs, much to the distress of MikeyFox & the relief of yours truly.

I'm not letting myself worry about the cost of heating up the Shack In The (Frozen) Marshlands, or whether or not I'll get to Sheffield to restock the shop I supply (after spending the last two days making up all the stock), frozen water pipes or digging out the car every morning. I am, instead, wrapping myself up warm & burrowing my way through the drifts and walking through the fields every day & enjoying the rare pleasures of snow. The great expanse of white that was a field of rapeseed, that makes little white sparkles dance in front of my eyes if I stare too long. The tree-lined path to the church dusted with snow, prettier than any Christmas card. The snow-topped cottages of the village looking like icing topped gingerbread houses. The Cavalo Nero in the garden, the deepest green you could imagine against the crisp whiteness. Little pleasures that make it worth getting up in the morning.

Okay, enough reverie, I promised knitting patterns!
Last year I was all about bags. All sizes, all shapes. But my favourite was the messenger bag. I loved the simplicity of it, the way it knitted up quickly in a few days & it's a really good way of showing off whatever fancy or unusual textured wool you have, or any new stitches you've become partial to.
Alas, this isn't really a pattern, more of a guideline that you can adapt to your needs.

Your average bag will need about 3 balls of yarn. If you're making a little purse-style bag, you should be able to get away with one or two balls. The basic process is to knit a long strip of - um - knittery, and fold it like an envelope. Your one strip will become the front, bottom, back & flap of the bag. Then to knit a thin strip of - uh - knittery which will become the handle and sides of the bag, which you stitch in place at the end.

Your first step is to figure out what size you want your bag to be. Do you want it to be a laptop bag? Something to carry folders in? Or the mountain of detritus that seems to build up around you wherever you go. Or a little bag for the essentials.
Next, choose your yarn. It's worth adding here that the thicker the yarn, the quicker it knits up. Stuff suitable for 8mm or 10mm needles will take no time at all to make. Variegated yarn can bring out really nice random patterns in the finished bag, and textured yarn will give an interesting finish.
Knit yourself a little tension square. Yes, it's not nearly as fun as actually making something, but if you want to make something a certain length, you'll need it to figure out how many stitches you need to cast on.
Okay, so now you have the arcane wisdom necessary (or have just cast on until it feels like enough), get knitting. You can use any stitch you like, rib, stockinette, garter, moss, whatever takes your fancy. I'd stick to garter stitch if you're using a fancy, fluffy or bobbly wool.
Knit until it's 3 times the intended size (height, I mean) of your bag (so, if you want a bag that's 25cm/10" tall, you'd knit it 75cm/30" long). This isn't set in stone, though. If you want a short flap, reduce the length accordingly.
Next, you'll need to knit your strap. This can be as thick or as thin as you like. You can make it really skinny or really thick. Or somewhere in the middle. As for how long it is, well how long do you want it? Once you know the answer to that question (if it's a shoulder bag, use a tape measure to see how long you need it to be. Don't forget to include the extra you need to make the side panels of the bag). Remember that knitting stretches, so err on the side of caution.

Once you've knitted your strap, you need to sew it in place. Place the knitting wrong side up on a flat surface & lay one end of your strap alongside the edge that you're about to sew. Make sure you're measured up right & stitch away. Sewing onto the strap will turn your big lump of knittery into a 3 dimensional bag shape. Woo! Position the other end of the strap on the other side (making sure it's not twisted) and repeat the process. Turn inside out (well, it's actually rightside round now!) and huzzah! You have a bag!

The bag on the left is Wendy Origin yarn in the less-appealing-than-it-actually-looks colour petroleum knitted with 5mm needles. The bag on the right is Wendy Viva yarn in Delph with 10mm needles.

Of course, if that sounds a bit too complicated, you can sew up the edges of the bag without these side panels, and knit up a strap to attach for a flatter bag.

Next pattern will be an actual patterny-pattern. promise!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

You're All Getting Hats This Year

As usual, Christmas has snuck up on me. You'd think that I'd learned by now, but no. No learning here, thanks, we're fully stocked with the stupids.

But I'm still a firm believer in homemade gifts are the nicest to give (and receive!), so along with the baby jacket I've still not finished for little Henrik & the woo-you-got-married gift for Sue, I'm currently whipping up some simple gifts for my pals around the world (though you'll have to wait until after Christmas to hear about them. Sorry folks!). So I'm a One-Fox knitting factory right now. (And for those of you in the UK with people to send gifts to, last posting dates for Christmas are here.)

If you're stuck for home made gift ideas, you can't go wrong with a jar of Chutney or Mincemeat! If you're really short of time, but nifty with knitting needles, here's a hat pattern that knits up in a day (I make a few of these every year!) & an easy little Shawl that can be made with pretty much any wool you have lying around in your stash.

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting more crafty gifts, along with the usual babble about vegetables & the like.

Okay, off to chop some more wood for the fire. For the 21st Century has yet to reach North Lincolnshire.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Hooray, Pizza Day

Thanks to Jonathan Coulton for the blog title. If you're unfamiliar with JoCo & his Thing A Week series (where he recorded a new song a week for a year & made it freely available on his website), then visit his website for a folk version of 'Baby got back' as well as songs about zombies, robot overlords, monkeys, a creepy doll, mad scientists in love & furry lobsters.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be doing a recipe.

So, if you haven't already figured it out, today is pizza day. Pumpkin pizza day. But the pumpkin isn't part of the topping, it's part of the base. Fancy that!

This recipe makes enough for 2 large pizzas. You can halve the recipe if that's too much for you, or use the remaining dough to make a small loaf or some bread rolls (you'll need to leave them to rise until they're doubled in size before putting in the oven)

200g roasted pumpkin flesh
125ml water
1 tbs each of pumpkin seed oil & olive oil (or 2 tbs olive oil)
1 tbs maple syrup (or honey or golden syrup)
1 1 /2 tsp salt
75g fine cornmeal (or maizemeal or polenta flour)
425g strong white flour (or half plain, half wholemeal)
1 tbs easy blend dried yeast

If you have a breadmaker, throw in all the ingredients & use the dough setting. Go have a cup of tea or something while the breadmaker does its thing. If you've not got a breadmaker, pour all the dry ingredients into a large bowl & give it a quick stir around. Make a well in the centre & add the oil, maple syrup, mashed pumpkin flesh & water. Either get your hands straight in there or start mixing with a fork or wooden spoon. It will be messy, but most things in life worth doing get messy at times. Once it's a dough (if it's a little dry, add a little water, too wet, add a little flour), knead for 3 or 4 minutes, until it's springy & elastic. Put in a bowl & cover with a cloth, then leave for about an hour to rise (which is roughly how long it will take to get all the gunk off your hands). This is also a good time to figure out what pizza toppings you want.
Preheat the oven to 220C/G7.
Take a couple of baking sheets & scatter with a little polenta flour (which will keep it from sticking, but not leave an unpleasant floury taste on the pizza).
Divide your dough in half & set one piece to one side. Lightly knead your dough on a floured surface & roll out as thick or as thin as you like your pizza. Lay on the baking sheet & get started on the second lump of dough.
Once you've got your pizza bases rolled out & on their baking trays, spread with whatever sauce & toppings you fancy. Bake for around 15 minutes, or until the dough is puffy & browning at the edges.

You don't always have to go for the traditional cheese & tomato pizza. Pesto (either home made from whatever is in the garden, or shop bought), salsa (tomatillo & Serrano salsa is awesome) and chilli sauce all work really well. And the toppings can be grilled vegetables, steamed greens, toasted nuts, whatever you can think of. The picture above is of a vegetable pizza. The base was spread with a sauce made from 4 large mushrooms & a clove of garlic fried up in a splash of oil & whizzed in a blender with a pinch of salt. pepper & tarragon. It's topped with sliced chard stem & wilted chard leaves. You could have topped it with dabs of goats cheese or something blue & salty, but it was just as delicious without.

Om nom nom!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Pumpkin Dumplings

This recipe is inspired by the Indian snack Boondi (small, round gram flour balls deep fried in oil & served with yoghurt), but actually bears more of a resemblance to English dumpling, as it's much larger and steamed, rather than deep fried, though they don't have any raising agents like baking powder in them. So Pumpkin dumpling, then...

250g roasted pumpkin flesh
150g Gram flour
2 tbs semolina (optional. This gives the dumplings a bit of bite & texture)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chilli flakes

Mash the pumpkin in a bowl with a fork. Add the spices, semolina & seasoning & mix thoroughly. Add the gram flour & work into a soft dough (if it's too wet, add gram flour a little at a time. If it's too dry, a splash of water). Roll into balls about the size of a walnut (if you have one of those coffee scoops that come with cafetieres, they're a quick way of making a good sized ball).
If you want to freeze some for using later, arrange on a tray & pop in the freezer. When they've frozen, tip into a bag & try not to let it get stuck behind the peas, only to be rediscovered 3 years later when you've completely forgotten what they are.
To, cook, just drop them onto any pan of wet curry that you're making, cover & leave to steam for 10 minutes (or you can just steam them & serve with yoghurt & a squeeze of lemon juice).

So, not really a recipe, but an extra to liven up something you're already making.

Here's some steaming over a pan of sweet potato & mushroom bhuna*
Om nom nom!

*Though it works really well with milder curries like pasanda & korma

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Warning: Does Not Turn Into A Pumpkin After Midnight

Okay, folks. I promised a week of pumpkin recipes, and I'm working on new & interesting ways to use roasted pumpkin flesh. So, open you're minds really wide... wider than that. And Behold!


Okay, so maybe I've gone a bit too far. Feh, if you can't get stupid on your own blog, where can you? This recipe is inspired by those Quorn roasts that you find in the supermarket freezers, but it's a lot tastier! It's been so long since I last ate turkey (and that was the Christmas roast - painfully dry and about as tasty as chewing on greasy cardboard) that I don't really remember the flavour. But this has a rich, savoury, slightly sweet flavour, you wouldn't know there was pumpkin in it without someone telling you. It's also vegan, woo!
It's a surprisingly simple recipe & mixes together in no time, the texture comes from both steaming & baking (much like with the Chorbeetzo recipe), which keeps it nice and tender while still being firm enough to slice. You can shape it into two Quorn roast style logs, or into one large one that can be used like vegetarian luncheon meat or deli slices.

1 cup of roasted pumpkin flesh
2 cups of water
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups wheat gluten
4 tbs nutritional yeast powder (if you can't get hold of any, don't fret. It just gives the roast a savoury taste)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp vegetable stock powder (marigold is really good, but any stock powder or cube you have will do)
2 tsp maple syrup (the secret ingredient! It sounds weird, but it works wonders!)
1 tsp Maggi sauce (again, this is to give it a savoury flavour. If you don't have Maggi sauce, Bragg liquid amino's, hendersons relish, vegetarian Worcester sauce or soy sauce will do)
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

Put the pumpkin, onion, garlic, maple syrup, vegetable stock powder & Maggi sauce in a blender & whizz until smooth. Mix the gluten powder, nutritional yeast, spices & salt in a bowl. Add the wet to the dry & mix thoroughly. You're looking for a spongy mass, not dry & tough, but not sticky & wet either. Knead for a minute & shape into two logs (or one big 'un). Wrap in kitchen foil, twisting the ends firmly to make a log. Place in a steamer & leave steaming for 30 minutes (1 hour for the big 'un). Preheat the oven to 200C/G4.
Remove the foil parcels from the steamer & place in a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes (1 hour for the big 'un). The Not-Turkey (Turkain't?) will swell up but the foil will hold it in shape. Leave to cool wrapped in the foil (if you unwrap it while hot, it'll dry out and get a bit tough). You can unwrap it briefly to cut a bit off one end to try it, of course.
Once cool, it can be stored in the fridge. Then you can use it in sandwiches, salads, chilli, pasta, enchiladas, risottos, mole, jambalaya... anything really!

I'm going to play around with it a little & it will eventually become Christmas dinner. I'm mostly thinking along the lines of filling it with some sort of stuffing, maybe apricot & almond, or cranberry & pecans (my current favourite, I think they'd go well with the earthy sweetness of the maple syrup) and serving with roasted veg & cranberry relish. Sound good?

Om nom nom!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Pumpkin kebabs

This recipe is inspired by Monesha Bharadwaj's Shakarkand kebab recipe, a North Indian sweet potato dish from the indispensable India's Vegetarian Cookery book (one of my favourite cookery books, and one of the few where I diligently follow the recipes). The original recipe had chickpea flour, paneer & ginger - all things that go really well with pumpkins! The Gram flour needs to be toasted, which is a bit of a faff, but worth it for the lovely aroma that fills the kitchen!
Paneer is an Indian cheese, often referred to as Indian cottage cheese, though it's nothing like cottage cheese. It's a firm, dry, neutral flavoured cheese. If you can't get hold of any, feta will work, but leave out the salt in the recipe, as feta is pretty saltalicious.
Makes 8 kebabs.

300g roasted pumpkin flesh, mashed with a fork
100g Gram flour (Chickpea flour)
100g Paneer, grated or crumbled
4 tbs cashew nuts
1 tbs grated ginger
a pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 220c/G6
Tip the gram flour into a small pan on a medium heat & dry roast it, stirring regularly to keep it from sticking. After 5 or 6 minutes it will smell toasty & delicious. Tip into a bowl & use the warm pan to toast the cashew nuts. When they are golden & fragrant, tip into a pestle & mortar & give them a quick bash. You don't want cashew powder, you just want to break them up a little.
Add the cashews, pumpkin, paneer, ginger, nutmeg, salt & pepper & mix together. Add the gram flour & knead until a dough is formed (it will be a bit sticky). If you have kebab sticks or skewers, divide the dough into 8 and shape around the skewers (if you're having a bit of trouble with things being sticky, try oiling your hands or adding a tablespoon of flour to the dough). If you haven't got any skewers, divide the dough into 10 & shape into little cigar shapes.
Place on a greased baking sheet & chuck in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve with wedges of lemon & a dollop of yoghurt.

Om nom nom!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Ermeni Pilavi (Armenian Rice with Pumpkin)

As you can probably guess from the title, I'm still mucking around with Middle Eastern food.
This is quite an unusual rice dish of Armenian origin, sweet & fruity & caramelised, more like a dessert than a savoury dish. It takes a little bit of time to prepare, but it is a delicious winter warmer of a dish, and well worth the effort. The Pilavi in the name hints to the method of cooking the rice, where the rice is browned in butter before water is added & the rice is steamed until cooked & fluffy. If your attempts to make rice end up with something soggy & disappointing, pilau or pilav rice will never let you down!

225g rice (preferably basmati)
675g pumpkin flesh, thinly sliced (you can use roasted pumpkin, which is delicious, or if you have a raw pumpkin, peel, deseed, slice & steam or parboil for 5-7 minutes)
1 tbs sultanas, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs clarified butter or ghee (regular butter also works)
600ml water
a pinch of brown sugar
60g honey (or light brown sugar)
1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
90g butter
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/G6.
Wash the rice & drain. Soften the onions in the clarified butter in a pan. Stir in the rice, garlic & sultanas. Add the water, a pinch of salt & pepper, then bring to the boil & simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat & leave to steam
In a bowl, combine the honey & spices. If your honey is quite thick, warm it for a few seconds in the microwave to get it runnier. Grease an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with a little brown sugar, then arrange half of the pumpkin slices in a layer. Melt the butter in a pan & pour half over the pumpkins. Drizzle half the spiced honey mixture over the top* of all that. Spoon the rice over the top, spreading it out in an even layer. Arrange the remaining slices of pumpkin over the rice & press down firmly. Pour the last of the butter & spiced honey over the top & bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pumpkin is meltingly tender & caramelised on top.
Serve with grilled vegetables & halloumi.

No picture today. We ate it all.
Om nom nom!

*Not exactly health food, but you won't be having it everyday, will you?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Balkabağı Köftesi (Pumpkin rolls)

In Dublin MikeyFox & I went to a lovely Lebanese restaurant called The Cedar Tree, where we had a delicious mezze followed by chickpea & aubergine stew (om nom nom!). As we ambled back to our hotel (via a few pubs) MikeyFox proclaimed Lebanese food to be The Bestest & we should eat it more often. Having spent the last 4 years making Imam Biyaldi, Baba Ganouj & Imjaddarra, not to mention stuffing our fridge with halva, Beyaz Peynir (a salty white cheese made from sheeps milk) & Labneh, it was all I could do not to just pitch him into the Liffey & be done with it all!

But I was full of various pureed legumes & spinach pastries (and Messrs Maguires fine porter), so not especially inclined towards murderings. Lucky MikeyFox.

This recipe is based on Havuc (woooah, have-a-banana!) Koftesi, a Turkish recipe for carrot rolls. If the name sounds familiar, it's because of kofte, those balls or patties of minced beef or lamb with spices & onions. These little treats are made with pumpkin instead, making them Balkabagi Koftesi. They are herby, sweet & delicious as a snack or part of a mezze.

Half a medium sized pumpkin, peeled, deseeded & roasted (a butternut squash treated in the same way will also work well)
2 slices of bread, rubbed into crumbs
6 dried apricots, finely chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
2 tbs pine nuts, bashed in a pestle & mortar
2 cloves garlic, treated with similar cruelty in a pestle & mortar
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 egg
1 tbs each of dill, parsley & mint, finely chopped
salt & pepper
Plain flour for coating

Mash the pumpkin in a large bowl with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients & mix thoroughly. If there is any liquid in the mixture, add more breadcrumbs (bearing in mind that it should still be moist & sticky, not dry & doughy). Sprinkle a plate with plain flour. Scoop a heaped teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture into your hand & mould into an oblong. Toss in the flour & put to one side while you make the rest of them.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan & place the little kofte in it, turning regularly until they brown on all sides (you can bake them in the oven at 180c for 30 minutes, turning halfway through if you prefer).
Serve hot or cold. They go really well with yoghurt with a little lemon juice, a clove of garlic & a pinch of salt & pepper added, or with some crumbled feta or beyaz peynir

Balkabagi Kofkesi (Pumpkin rolls) with some dolmades. Om nom nom!

Too Early for the Circus, Too Late for the Bars

So I'm kind of late for my annual Week of Pumpkin Recipes.
Meh, if you're anything like me, you'll be trawling the stores monday morning looking for reduced pumpkins & squashes. And you need to do something with them, right?

So until I get myself together & get posting, here's my pumpkin harvest for the year (not including the ones I've already eaten. Sorry, guys, but they were just so damned tasty!)
In the meantime, you can try out previous years posts such as Pumpkin, Lentil & Peanut Stew, Pumpkin Gratin or Pumpkin Bread.

Okay. Cup of coffee. Survey the shameful neglect of the allotment. Blog about veg.

Happy Hallowene, folks!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Baile Átha Cliath

Hello blog. I have returned from the crowded delights of the fair city of Baile Átha Cliath, otherwise known as Dublin.

Most of the time was spent walking around. There are an insane amount of tacky touristy things you can do, but then you'd not have time to see the really interesting (and free) things, like the Irish National Botanic Gardens, 20,000 plants spread across 27 acres, many of them filling up the wrought iron glasshouses. The picture here is of inside the Palm House, a huge glasshouse built in 1884.
If succulents, sub-tropicals, palms, cacti, sugarcane & creepy insect-eating vegetation (a whole room of them - brr!), outside there collections of dahlias, pampas grasses, trees, herbs, vegetables and all manner of things leafy, smelly & colourful.
There are also events & exhibitions at the visitors centre (which also has really tasty fruit scones)
There is also the Herbarium - a collection of over 600,000 preserved plants. Oooo!

There is also the National Museum of Ireland. Well, there's actually 4 of them!
The Decorative arts & History Museum (exhibitions of clothing, furniture, weapons, religious paraphernalia & rammel from around the world).
The Archaeology Museum has exhibitions of Celtic bling & Viking loot, plus a sober & moving collection of Bog Bodies.
And the Museum of Natural History. This has to be my favourite, even though it's commonly referred to as the 'Dead Zoo'. First opened in 1857, it's a mind boggling collection of around 2 million specimens of beasties, birds & bugs, divided into 2 exhibitions; creatures of Ireland & pretty much everything else, all displayed in Victorian cabinet style.

A few things about Dublin.

1, The bus drivers hate you. No matter who you are, how often you smile and thank them, they hate you. Try not to take it personally.

2, People will warn you that the beer is expensive, which is true. You go into a pub or bar & you're looking at 4 or 5 euros a pint (except for the glorious Czech Inn, which is slightly cheaper, and also has dark lager. Yum!). But in supermarkets it's as cheap as in the UK. A bottle of something Spanish & red in tesco will set you back about 5 euros, but in a restaurant or pub it'll be more like 20. I tried asking a local what the deal was, but he was halfway through a heroic attempt to drink every beverage in the Porterhouse Octoberfest range, and could only manage a brief rant about taxes (and a recommendation on which Weissbier was worth trying). If you can afford a pint, Messrs Maguire on O'Connell Bridge & the Porterhouse at Temple Bar are excellent brewpubs. I heartily recommend the Porter & Red beers.

3, There is a giddy range of foods for vegetarians (speaking as someone who lives over 40 miles & a bloody great estuary from her nearest Vegetarian restaurant, this is about as thrilling as life gets!). If you're short on cash, Govindas is the place to go - friendly staff, delicious food & huge portions. Cornucopia is a cracking vegetarian & wholefood restaurant with a dizzying range of hot & cold food, salads, soups & oaty snacks. Cafe Azteca gets a special mention, even though it isn't vegetarian. They have a vegetarian pozole that I will probably be dreaming about when I'm ancient & we're all living on the moon anyway. The staff were lovely, and if you ask nicely, will happily sell you some of their stash of chiles (I got some chile de arbol!)
If you're in the mood for a cup of tea & a slice of cake, you can't do better than Queen of Tarts, an adorable cosy little cafe down the road from Dublin castle, for an enormous chipped enamel pot of tea & one of the sweet treats (everything from Muffins to Bailey's Chocolate Cheescake**) piled up at the counter.

4, The city is in a distopian-future style permanent gridlock. If you need to get anywhere, you'd better head out at 7am when they're hosing down the streets (though how people have enough money to get that drunk is beyond me). Cars pay little attention to the pretty coloured lights by the road, and the cyclists barely notice the difference between road and pavement, let alone the finer points of the Highway Code. Pedestrians take a rather Zen* approach to crossing the road. Perhaps living in a city where a pint of beer costs the same as a 15 mile taxi ride makes you a little bit suicidal.

So, travelogue over, back to posting recipes & pictures of vegetables!

*I'm not suggesting that they believe in the Universal nature of transcendent wisdom, it's more that they sail out diagonally across box junctions & allow the universe to screech wildly around them.

**Yes, I did. As the song goes, Je ne regrette rien

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Harvest Moon

One of the, um, interesting things about this whole new self-sefficient-ish lark is the terrifyingly steep learning curve. Back in April when I was merrily sowing seeds & chitting potatoes no one mentioned that, at some point, it would all need harvesting.
In my old (much smaller) garden, harvesting was a small daily ritual, venturing out to the single raised bed & seeing what needed eating. By September it was over but for the half dozen Jerusalem artichokes that loitered in the corner.
So (in case it wasn't apparent from the recent spate of harvesting & storing blogs) I'm currently in the midst of frantic harvesting & storing. Potatoes have been dug up, checked over & packed into paper bags (the nibbled ones made into half a freezers worth of mash*), apples have been wrapped in newspaper & stored, beets have been clamped, Pumpkins have been harvested & left to cure in the polytunnel, beans podded & dried & the last of the courgettes harvested.

And in the midst of this flurry of activity, MikeyFox & myself have decided to drop it all and disappear off to Dublin for a week (to celebrate 10 years since the day we met. Yes, we're celebrating the day we met). So I'll be taking a short hiatus from blogging, as I'll be in another country.

But first, there's still the Oca that needs covering with fleece, tomatillos to be harvested & chilli's to be collected & strung up to dry. And the house needs cleaning, so the old lady who's watching the cats in our absence doesn't suck air through her teeth at me (the greatest, unspoken, criticism the elderly can bestow upon the young).

Have a happy harvest folks, and don't break the Internet while I'm gone!

*When we get tired of plain mash, it can be perked up with a spoonful of mustard, horseradish, wasabi paste, grated cheese, shredded fried cabbage or turned into gnocchi, scones, MikeyFox's Fishless Fishcakes or potato cakes.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Chorizo is a term for several types of pork sausage, the most famous being the Spanish variety made with smoked paprika (pimentón) that celebrity chefs are always going on about. It's nigh on impossible to find a vegetarian alternative, and even harder to find one that doesn't taste like athletic equipment.

So when all else fails, try making it yourself! And if you can shoehorn in a terrible pun, even better!

This recipe takes a bit of time, so it's not something to do in a hurry, but on a rainy Sunday afternoon while listening to El Vez.

3 medium sized fresh beetroots (2 large, 4 small etc)
350g (1 1/2 cups) Wheat Gluten
200ml (just shy of 1 cup) cider vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tbs chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbs smoked paprika
1 tbs salt

You will also need;
kitchen foil
a steamer (a Chinese bamboo steamer works well, or a metal stacking steamer. If you don't have a steamer, a bit of creativity using a large pan & some scrunched up kitchen foil, or an upturned saucer should get around that).

Roast the beetroot whole in the oven at 180C for about an hour (maybe longer, depending on the size) until cooked through. Leave to cool. The skins should slip off easily, but if they give you trouble, a sharp knife should help. Put in a blender or food processor with the garlic, oil & cider vinegar & blitz to a smooth puree.
Mix the gluten, salt, pepper & spices in a large bowl. Add the beetroot puree & give it a thorough mixing.
If you've used gluten before, you'll be familiar with its, umm, unique texture. If not, my previous pun-tastic beetball post (I bet Heston Blumenthal never thought of Beet-Meat!) might prepare you for the Purple Blob of Doom. If it all seems a bit dry, a splash of water will help. If it's too wet, a sprinkling of more gluten powder, or some breadcrumbs, should help. The texture should be soft, spongy & very, very weird.
Knead for a minute, then shape into equal sized logs. You'll want them to be about twice the diameter & twice the length of your average sausage (though whatever length fits in your steamer, really!). Roll each sausage shape up in a sheet of kitchen foil & scrunch the ends closed. They will expand during cooking & this will keep them in shape. Pile all your foil parcels into your steamer & cook for 40 minutes. You'll need to preheat your oven to 180C again.
After 40 minutes, remove the foil parcels from the steamer and arrange of a baking tray. If any have burst out of their casing, wrap them in some more foil. Put in the oven & bake for another 40 minutes, turning occasionally.

Yes, I know this is all a bit of a faff, but trust me, it's worth it. You could just steam the Chorbeetzo for a full hour instead of baking, but marvellous alchemy occurs, and you get a firm textured, while still tender, chunk of sausage. Either way, the flavour will be rich, spicy and horribly, horribly addictive.

After 40 minutes, remove from the oven. They will have swelled up a bit, but they will shrink a little when cool. You can sample some now, but you're best off leaving them to go cool. Then they can be sliced thinly for topping pizza, chopped into chunks and added to fideos, Mexican rice, stews, casseroles or any amount of pasta dishes.

Friday, 8 October 2010

G(uit)ar Lic(k)s (worst pun title ever!)

There has been a brief (and very pleasant) few days of dry weather here in North Lincolnshire - a perfect opportunity to plant garlic! Yes, you can plant garlic in early spring, but the results can be a bit disappointing. It really needs a bit of cold weather to inspire it to produce fat, heavy bulbs.
You're best off buying your garlic for planting from a garden centre or an online supplier (I can't recommend The Garlic Farm enough! A good range of huge bulbs in excellent condition that are trouble free to grow) rather than stuff from the supermarket. Or you can scrounge some from anyone you know who grows their own*.

Garlic is fairly undemanding, though they do best in well drained, fertile soil. Last year MikeyFox treated me to the Garlic Farm's Garlic Lovers Seed Collection (9 varieties of garlic - on nom nom!), which were planted out in our raised beds. Whatever wasn't scarfed down green in June I harvested at the end of July & stored. So I'm using the most successful varieties of these stored bulbs for seed. Garlic is asexual (meaning it doesn't need pollinating, not that it's indifferent to rumpy-pumpy), so each clove will grow into a clone of the parent plant (and you don't have to fret about cross-pollination). There is something mildly disheartening about harvesting a large, perfectly formed head of garlic & instantly thinking 'I can't eat it', but on the plus side, saving your own seed encourages biodiversity, avoids the juggernaut of F1 hybrids & monocultures & allows you to dabble in a less crazy-haired form of mad science (like seed selecting & plant breeding). Also, it'll save you a few quid!
This year I'm planting Chesnok Wight (hardneck), Albigensian Wight (softneck), Lautrec Wight (hardneck), Iberian Wight (softneck) & Elephant garlic (I like to try & have an equal balance of hardneck & softneck varieties of garlic. Softnecks store better, but hardnecks produce a flowering spike called a 'scape', that you can chop off & use in stir fries, pesto & lots of other delicious, summery dishes).

Before planting, break the bulbs (carefully) into individual cloves. Any that are damaged or bruised are best used in cooking, as they'll rot or succumb to infection (which would be a terrible end, when they could end up being eaten instead!). The cloves are planted 15cm (6") apart in rows 45cm (18") apart (actually, they're planted further apart than that, so in spring I can sow carrots between the rows of garlic & onion to deter the dreaded carrot root fly). The smaller cloves from the middle of the bulb can also be planted out, but you can put them a little closer, about 10cm (4") apart (though a smaller clove will give you a smaller bulb. A big, delicious clove will give you, with luck & good weather, a big, delicious bulb).

I'm also planting Elephant garlic, which is actually a leek, rather than a garlic. It's rather aptly named! It also has a milder flavour that people who usually balk at raw garlic find a lot easier to handle.

They are best off planted September - October, about 30cm apart (they are big, after all). You can plant them later, but the closer you get to spring, the more likely it is that the bulb will not separate into cloves, and you'll pull up one solid bulb of garlic. A nice idea, but in practice it's a little intimidating. The bulb will also have little hard shelled bulblets (they're actually corms) clinging to the outside. These can be planted out right away, and will produce a small round - a solid ball that hasn't divided into cloves. Leave them another year & you'll get a full sized Elephant garlic. Woo!

*So that's a sentence that won't get me into trouble...

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Hill of Beans

It's always bothered me that the phrase 'A hill of beans' means something of little worth. You'd think after over 9,000 years of keeping the human race going, being one of the first (and most easily) cultivated crops & growing in the poorest soil (so no matter how poor you were, or how lousy the patch of land you had was, you could grow enough legumes to keep yourself going), the humble bean could maybe get a little credit.
It's okay, legumes. I'm a pariah too.
You can save & store any of the bean family, though Broad & Runner beans are kind of slutty, so if you're saving for sowing next year, you should grow them in isolation. French beans don't usually cross with each other, so you should be okay with growing different varieties of them together.

Beans are staggeringly easy to preserve. Late September/early October is the best time to be doing it, as you'll need to get them harvested before the first frosts. Like most harvesting, it's best done on a dry day. Beans are best dried on the plant, so check your climbing frames for pods that have started to dry out & turn brown. Pick 'em & pod 'em (but don't leave it so long that they split open & spill their seeds. That's pretty disheartening). If they're not dry by mid-October, then you can pull up the whole plant & hang somewhere sheltered to dry out. If you don't have that kind of space, pick the pods & arrange on cardboard trays (or anything that's breatheable, for fear of the dreaded mould!) somewhere warm & dry, making sure that they get plenty of air circulating around them.

Once dry, shell the beans. This is one of the most soothing things you can be doing in your garden in October, it's like shelling peas, only they're bigger, fatter & come in a variety of beautiful colours & patterns. The photo above shows one of my haphazard seed piles. Once dried I'll sort them into groups, but for now I just like the way they look together! There's a mix of Borlotti di fuoco, Orca, Kentucky Wonder Wax, Scarlet Emperor, Trail of Tears, White Lady & Cosse Violette

Once shelled, spread out on trays & leave somewhere for a week or two (depending on how dry they were to begin with. When they are hard & brittle, they're dry. Don't resist the urge to run your fingers through them, small pleasures are what life's all about.
Once dried, you can pack them up in paper envelopes for sowing next year or swapping with other veg growers, or you can store them in a jar & use to make soups, stews, chillies & other beany delights.

You don't have to just grow beans for podding either. All beans taste good dried, so if you stop harvesting your green beans at about mid August you'll get a good crop of beans for drying in early October. How cool is that?

A fair trade for a cow, if you ask me.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Gather Ye Rose Spuds While Ye May

Robert Herrick must be a-spinning in his grave...

Thanks to District (F)10* and a chunk of garden, we have far more potatoes than we're used to (previous years have involved growing spuds in buckets for salad potatoes or assigning a corner of garden for them. Either way they've all been devoured by mid September), so one of the tasks on my infinitely extendable list of stuff to do has been storing potatoes (I know how to party. Oh yes).

Not that you'll hear me complaining. Digging potatoes is the closest I get to feeling like a pirate. I don't mean that I drink rum while gardening (Czech dark lager actually), digging spuds is the closest I get to the feeling of digging up buried treasure!


These beauties are Blue Danube potatoes from Thomson & Morgan. They're surprisingly large, and lovely to look at. The deep purple-blue skin colour fades to less-exciting brown on cooking. Aww.
If you've got lots of spuds, you're probably best off digging them up in one go & storing them. Left in the ground they are likely to get nibbled at, or the ground will freeze solid on the day you're craving mash & onion gravy. So dig up your spuds on a dry morning, and leave out in the sun for a few hours, to give the skins a chance to harden up (and will store better). It's obvious, but I'll say it anyway, use a fork to dig up your spuds. A spade will only lead to tears, and ready sliced spuds. No matter how careful you are, you will always, always spear the biggest, bestest potato with your fork. You'll miss all the weird-shaped ones, the rotten ones (that burst when you pick them up), the ones that an industrious slug has made completely hollow**, but that perfect baking potato? Skewered through the middle like Ming the Merciless. Make sure you've dug up everything, and turn the soil over a few times with a fork. Anything left behind could end up harbouring pests & diseases.

Sort through your potatoes & any with nibbles, mysterious burrows, spongy bits, greenness, corky places or funky looking parts won't store & should be used up soon (after the funky bits have been cut away, of course. Mash or fritatta hides a multitude of sins). After all that, the actual storing part is a doddle. They just need is to be kept somewhere dark, and in something (preferably a hessian or paper sack, but an old pillowcase, T-shirt with holes sewn up or anything you can cobble together will do. Even manilla envelopes) that will let them breathe. Store them in shed or garage, anywhere dry, dark & away from frosts.

They'll need an occasional check to make sure that no slugs were bagged up with them (unless it's that Keyser Soze slug. Steer clear of that guy).

Next time - Beans!

*Otherwise known as The allotment. Our slightly bleak, windswept chunk of impenetrable clay soil. No extraterrestrials creatures or Neil Blomkamp running around, just huge, deranged hares skulking in the Oca.

**You'll be torn between hunting down the little bleeder & having a little Reservoir Dogs re-enactment with it and convincing yourself that Keyser Soze lives & is a gastropod

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Hammering the Clamps

A special prize of a packet of seeds to whoever gets that particular pun...

The weather has turned here in North Lincolnshire, there's a chill in the air & blight on the tomatoes. So it's autumn, my favouritest time of year. Sod your sticky, sleep deprived summer and your colder than a well diggers arse winter, autumn is the time for me. The corpulent pumpkins dotted around the garden are ripening (some are so big that they've developed a gravitational pull), the bean frames are heavy with swollen, leathery pods of fat, speckled beans and I'm tearing around the garden digging, harvesting, clearing soil & working my way through the pile of produce that needs storing or preserving.

I've already blogged a fair amount about chutneys & pickles, but there are other ways of saving your home grown delights, and even some that don't involve vinegar (shocking, isn't it?!). This week, I've been making clamps.

A clamp is basically a way of storing root veg as far from marauding slugs & other root-chompers as possible. There are a few different methods, the most common being to put the veg in a pile in a dry, sheltered spot in the garden & cover with layers of roots & straw or soil, but I prefer to use boxes.
You can use wooden boxes, crates, banana boxes, basically anything you have lying around. I managed to fanangle a big, sturdy lidded beer box (it's basically a large plastic crate) which lives next to the wood store.
I tend to use sand when making a clamp, but you can use garden soil (you might want to sieve it or check for root-chomping beasties, though), shredded newspaper or straw.
The box can be stored in a sheltered part of the garden, or in a shed or outhouse. Anywhere dry and protected from frost. Wherever that is, be sure & put the box there before you start filling it - it will get pretty heavy when it's full!

Pretty much any root crop can be clamped - beetroot, carrots, turnips, parsnips etc. Make sure your roots are in good condition, no mysterious burrowings, nibblings, soft spots or brown bits. You'll also need to make sure that the thready end of root is still intact too. Don't worry about cleaning off the soil. Twist or cut the leafy parts an inch or two from the top (beetroot is less likely to 'bleed' if the leaves are twisted rather than cut). Put a layer of sand (or whatever you're using) in the bottom of your box and arrange the roots on top, making sure there is space between them.

Cover with sand, arrange the next layer or roots & keep on going until you run out of roots or space. Cover & make a note of when it was filled. With luck, they should be good for up to 3 months (so do it now & you can have have home grown beetroot for Christmas dinner!)

Next time - potatoes!

Monday, 20 September 2010

The First On In The Last One Gone

Woo-hoo, it's chutney recipe number 7! I almost managed a whole week of blogging. How exciting! Future posts will be about something else now, promise.

Since this is my last chutney blog for a while, it only seems appropriate that it should be the first chutney I ever made. So this is a recipe & conjured up shortly after moving to the House at the Top of the Bloody Great Hill, which had two overgrown apple trees in the garden (one had fruit, flowers & leaves on it at the same time every spring. I know enough about mythology to proclaim it The Tree Of No Eating*). The name is a little misleading, as the chilli just gives the chutney a little warmth, though if you want to add more chillis, go for it!

Chilli Apple Chutney

1kg (about 5) apples, peeled, cored & roughly chopped
200g raisins
500g brown sugar
500ml cider vinegar
2 red chillies, finely chopped
50g crystallized ginger (or you can use stem ginger), chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
A few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 tsp salt

Throw everything into a large pan. Bring to the boil & then simmer for about an hour until the mixture thickens.

Not everyone is as into cinnamon as I am, so you could substitute the cinnamon & allspice for black mustard seed, mixed spice or 5 spice powder.

*In mythology posessing a bough bearing fruit, flowers & leaves grants access to the underworld. And I've seen enough Bruce Campbell films to know what that kind of thing leads to...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A Day Late & A Dollar Short

I meant to post this recipe yesterday, but went to Hull instead, so lots of staring at the Humber estuary & tidal barrier, getting over excited at the sight of derelict dry docks & eating far too much delicious food at the Green Ginger Cafe a freakin' adorable Vegetarian place in a narrow street in Hull called The Land of Green Ginger* at the bottom of Whitefriargate. If you are ever in Hull, check it out! The Aubergine Parmesan is delicious!

Anyway. Chutney.

Pear & Pecan Chutney

500g Pears, peeled, cored & chopped
500g Apples, also peeled, cored & chopped (it helps to have a big bowl of water with a splash of vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice in it to drop the apple pieces in while you chop**)
250g pecans, chopped (you can use walnuts or hazelnuts instead. I just have a thing for pecans)
250g shallots, chopped (there are lots of tricks out there to keep your eyes from watering while chopping onions. None of them really work)
250g raisins
25g ginger, grated
250g light brown sugar
300ml cider vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 tbs molasses (optional)

Pitch all the ingredients (except the Molasses of Debateable Usage) into a large pan. Bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat & simmer for about an hour, an hour & a half, maybe longer, until you have some thick, rich, fruity goo (you should be able to pull your spoon across the bottom of the pan and see a ribbon of pan bottom for a few seconds). Pear chutney can look a bit beige & depressing, so adding a heaped tbs of molasses will make it a little darker & glossier, without having an effect on the overall flavour. Spoon into clean, sterilised jars, and screw the lids on firmly. Label with something suitable & put in a cupboard & try not to think about it for a few months.
Goes well with cheese (especially cheese toasties), pies & poppadums. A heaped spoonful stirred into tagines & stews is something pretty special too.

*Most awesome street name ever!

**Cut apples turn brown when exposed to air, which can affect the texture, and generally make it all a bit ick. Dunking the cut pieces in acidulated water (fancy term for water with a bit of vinegar or citrus juice in it) prevents such ickyness.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Fig & Apple Chutney

I'm doing my best to avoid any puns on this one, and am making a point of having absolutely no ginger in this recipe*.
Sometimes life would be a lot less disturbing without Wikipedia. And people just kept to eating veg.

Moving swiftly on, fresh figs are in season about now, so make the most of it while you can. If you ever get tired of halving them, giving them a quick blast under the grill & serving with a creamy goats cheese (or a drizzle of honey & some yoghurt) then you could always give this a try.

Fig & Apple Chutney

600g figs (about 10. If you bought fresh figs with good intentions, but ended up eating them, dried figs work well too)
1 onion, chopped
500g apples, peeled, decored & chopped
400g demerara sugar
500ml white wine vinegar
150g sultanas
75g dried apricots, chopped
1 tbs yellow mustard seed
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp salt

You know the routine by now. Dump everything in a pan. Boil. Simmer for an hour, maybe a little more, until it's all thick & chutney-like. Spoon into sterilised jars, label & leave for a few months before eating.
A few variations...
200ml dry white white wine. It will take a little longer to thicken, but will be delicious.

50g sun dried tomatoes, blitzed in a blender, will give it a bit of richness. You could probably get away with a splash of red wine in there too.

Replace the mustard seeds, cinnamon & cardamom with chilli flakes, black pepper & the juice & zest of a lemon

*If you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky! And I'm never ever using the term 'ginger up' again. Brr!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Can You Feel The Beet?

Of all the veg I grow, beetroot is my favourite. I love their sweet earthiness and the vivid leaves, which are a real treat to cook with that you rarely experience with shop bought beetroot* (the young leaves add a lovely earthiness to salad, the older leaves can be cooked like spinach or chard. Well, they are chard. Kind of.). This year I've been experimenting with growing different varieties of beetroot. I've grown more varieties of the classic, round ruby variety than I can keep up with! But of the other varieties out there this year I tried Blankoma white (not that impressive, to be honest), the candy striped Chioggia (best sliced thinly & eaten raw, as cooking turns the red & white stripes into uniform pink), Cylindra (a red barrel rooted variety, one of this years favourites), Burpee's Golden (a round yellow variety that tastes slightly sweeter than the red & the leaves are delicious) & Yellow Cylindrical beetroot (the other favourite of the year! Tender leaves and creamy white flesh). It was the Yellow Cylindrical variety that I used to make this recipe (no stains, woo!)

Beetroot Relish (as opposed to pickled beetroot)

500g beetroots, any colour or shape (I used golden cylinder beets, which are almost identical to the red ones, but without the dreaded staining)
400g red onions, chopped
100g sugar
200ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
25g grated horseradish (optional. You could use 25g grated fresh ginger instead. Or the juice and zest of an orange)

Roast the beetroot in an oven at 180C for about an hour, or until cooked. Leave to cool & rub off the skins (they’ll slip off easily. If not, a sharp knife will help them along). Grate or chop as small as you can stand & put into a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil & simmer, stirring regularly, for about 30 minutes, or until thickened. Spoon into clean, sterilised jars

*Presumably due to them wilting fairly quickly after harvesting.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Ploughmans Pickle (lucky Ploughman!)

Harvest time is pretty much over here in North Lincolnshire. The fields that were full of wheat & barley so recently are now brown & bare (though soon there will be a haze of green as the winter wheat starts sprouting).
I've always had a soft spot for the Ploughmans lunch* (a cold meal of bread, cheese, pickle and maybe an apple or a pickled onion), though North Lincolnshire Ploughmen seem to run on a diet of Fosters & Red Bull.

Moving swiftly on, here's a recipe for a Branston-style pickle, and a bit of a change for me, as I usually make fruit-based chutneys**, but the garden is crammed full of veg right now, so it seems like the best time to give it a try!

Ploughmans Pickle

The recipe here is a guideline, use whatever veg you have in abundance. Swede, cauliflower & gherkins all go well in this. You can add a few handfuls of raisins too, if you fancy.

285g carrots, chopped
285g turnips, chopped
285g courgettes, chopped
225g onions, chopped
225g apples, chopped
150g dates
250g demerara sugar
500ml malt vinegar (I usually suggest cider or white wine vinegar, but pale vinegar can make pickles look a bit muddy and unappetising, where you ideally want it to be so dark & dense that light cannot escape it. Kind of like a black hole but with carrots)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp mustard seeds (you can bash them in a pestle & mortar, or leave them whole for a little bite)
2 tsp allspice, ground
1 tsp cayenne pepper

In the words of Dinosaur Jr – start choppin! Seriously, most of the time you’ll be spending on this is getting the veg all cup into ½ cm dice. It will take ages. You’ll regret ever taking up preserving, but it will all be worth it in the end, when you have all the neatly diced veg in a thick, rich, lip-prickling sauce. Promise.

Tip everything into a large pan & slowly bring to the boil. Reduce the heat & simmer until the veg is tender & the sauce has thickened. This can take anywhere between half an hour & two hours.

When it’s (finally) thickened up, spoon into clean, sterilised jars & seal. Then come up with a name for your pickle, label it & store it for 3 months (if you can wait that long). If there’s something left in the pan, scrape it up with a bit of crusty bread & blow on until it’s cool enough to gulp down without scalding yourself. Pickle hot from the pan is face-scrunchingly sharp, but worth every wincing mouthful.

*Despite sounding like something as bucolic and traditionally English as marmalade & casual racism, the Ploughmans was an advertising campaign conjured up by the Milk Marketing Board in the 1960's to make people buy more cheese.

**There is a lot of debate out there about the difference between a chutney and a pickle. As far as I can tell, a chutney is a sweeter, fruit-based preserve (but still with the addition of vinegar, otherwise it would just be jam) and pickles are vegetable-based and with a more pronounced vinegar flavour.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


This year was my first attempt at growing curcubits (the sprawly, fruity, juicy plant family of gourds, melons, squash and other scrambling vines that will take over half the garden if you let 'em) other than courgettes. Turns out, if you can grow a courgette, you can grow the rest of 'em too! So I've found myself besieged by pumpkins, cucumbers & gherkins. And I chuffing love it! (if you fancy growing gherkins next year, I recommend Hokus, an easy to grow, high yielding outdoor trailing variety)

So in a change from the usual chutneys, here's a pickle!

Pickled Cucumber

1kg cucumbers (or gherkins)
1 tbs sugar (optional)
cider or white wine vinegar
1 sprig of dill (optional. Unless you’re using gherkins, then it’s compulsory!)
1 tsp black peppercorns

With a sharp knife, cut the cucumber into painfully thin slices. I’m sure that there are food processor attachments that can do this sort of thing, but I have always taken the sharp-knife-and-backache approach. Arrange the slices in a colander (or the plastic inner mesh of a salad spinner), scattering with salt between the layers. This draws out moisture & helps vegetables remain crisp after pickling. Place the colander in a bowl, cover with a cloth & leave somewhere cool overnight.

The next day, take a moment to marvel at how much liquid has come out of the veg. Rinse thoroughly & pack into clean, sterilised jars. Add the sugar (if using) & dill to the jar & top with the vinegar. Seal & store in a cool, dry place for a few weeks. Once opened, keep it in the fridge.
What can you do with it? It's a really nice accompaniment to stir fries, goes well in veggie burgers, gives potato salad a nice bite & sour note & is surprisingly tasty in sandwiches.

This is one of those recipes that you can really play around with, all you need is to remember to slice them & salt them the night before. Need a few suggestions? Okay then…

Combine shallots, cauliflower florets & slices of carrot for a mixed pickle (add 1 tbs sugar to the vinegar for a sweet mixed pickle)

Slices of radish (or if you’re growing rat-tail radish, whole young pods) with fresh mint leaves or dill. Japanese daikon or mooli sliced or grated with ginger or chilli slices works really well too.

Cauliflower florets are a delicious, crisp pickle, and work really well with the addition of 1tbs of toasted coriander seed & 1 tsp toasted cumin seed (you can add a pinch of turmeric & yellow mustard powder for a bit of colour too!)

Celeriac, coarsely grated or thinly sliced, with 1 tbs yellow mustard seed and as much grated black pepper as you can stomach.

Florence Fennel, finely sliced with the zest & juice of a lemon and a couple of bay leaves makes a light, refreshing pickle.

Celery, finely sliced, makes a refreshing pickle.

Courgettes, deseeded & sliced, with whatever Mediterranean herbs you have lying around, is a good way of using up a glut.

Red cabbage & red onion, shredded, with plenty of black pepper.