Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Experiments

I am in an experimental type of mood, which is not always good, because when one is cooking or growing to eat, depending on the day this might be a good thing, or not so good. One generally has to eat one's experiments with good grace.

I remember eating broad beans as a child, and I probably ate them quite happily at the start of the season, but all I really remember was the toughest of leathery skins on rather old broad beans, that maybe shouldn't have been served but they were because they had been grown by my Grandad so the waste not want not attitude came into play.

Fortunately when we first got the plot hubby had the same memory of broad beans as myself and we quickly discarded the growing of them. (his father had a veg patch and so he knew about the waste not want not attitude and the tough broad beans) But as ever I am always listening to others and always at the start of the year I have listened to many people wax lyrical about the tenderness of the broad bean.

I was hesitant, along with being hesitant, we only had the one plot which was always chock a block, so didn't really have room to spare to try this loathed by the both of us vegetable. But this year we have two plots to plant up. So in between the bout of pneumonia and the very wet chest infection I managed to start a few in my greenhouse and hubby planted them out for me.

The first pickings.

And here are the beautiful baby broad beans, which I boiled in salted water for a few minutes, and they were delicious, which was a complete shock to us and I am glad that so many people have talked about them. I am looking forward to trying the lovely recipes for broad beans that I have become aware of over the years.

Next on the experimental list, was to try and master the bread maker. I bought a bread maker many years ago for the making of gluten free bread, it was never successful, so as it was kept under the stairs. Occasionally I go on a bread jag and make lots of bread, I've been making bread for a long time and I never weigh or measure I just look at a bag of flour, I know its this amount of flour to this amount of water and if it rises quickly I may have added a little too much yeast, but hey ho,, and off we go.. I can turn out loaves that are pretty nice most of the time.

But, bread making can be a bit hard on my joints and muscles (without going into too many details) so I thought I would reinvestigate the bread maker. Well, I had failure after failure and it was at this point that I had to take a serious look at everything I was doing. Although my texture was right with the amount of flour and water I was adding, I found out my yeast was out by 1/2 a teaspoon. I corrected it, and since then I've been turning out loaves that are okay to me, but abhorred by my family, the reason being, they are wholemeal and not white.

Even when I tried making a white loaf, it was never good enough for the clan. So being the sneaky person that I am, I thought of favored ingredients, and these were sun dried tomatoes, olives and oregano so I made a loaf out of them. And I waited to see what the reaction might be.

At long last, Success. Son no.1 had the first slice and at the very moment he took his first bite the guttural cry of "mmmm...mmmm..." resounded from him.

The hungry hoardes took their lead from him and the loaf practically disappeared within minutes, I asked whether I should bake some more for packed lunches the next day, which was met with a resounding Yes. Oh how that made me smile. And off course it was so easy because all I had to do was chop a few olives and sun dried tomatoes and let the machine do the work. It was a good job done. (although I did have to stay up till eleven o'clock at night to take the bread out of the machine- a woman's work is never done!)

And yet more experiments.

Once upon a time when I was pregnant with son no.2, it was our first summer in this house and hubby's parents came to stay for a while. During this time we went strawberry picking (as you do) and we picked far too many strawberries, (it all became a bit competitive !) and we had far too many strawberries. So that afternoon on a very hot summers day in June hubby's mum and I decided we would make strawberry jam. Knowing that I had a preserving pan, (bearing in mind they had bought it on request from me, and I've loved it so) we set forth.

What started well became a nightmare, and eventually we gave up, bottled our jam which was not properly set, and started the evening meal. Then studied what we had done wrong, and set forth the next day and got it right and the jam set beautifully. You would agree that it wasn't something I wanted to repeat, the memory of being exhausted whilst looking after guests and being pregnant, well it didn't leave me.

During the last eighteen years I must have made a small batch of strawberry jam because even though I can't quite remember doing this son no.2 has asked me to make it recently because he remembers the taste or was it the jam fumes that he smelt whilst being safely in my tummy, I don't know.

Having never grown enough surplus strawberries at the plot for the likes of jam I was overjoyed to see my high class grocer beginning with W selling their stock of strawberries off at 75p for 400grams,.. Well, I was giddy, it was within days that son no. 2 had begged me for strawberry jam and so I looked carefully at what they had to offer. The fruit was in perfect condition but the more I looked the more I realised that they were from different producers and there were at least at least 5 different varieties to look at. Which was shocking actually because they were just piled up together. But then thinking about it, you would have to approach more than one supplier to be able to produce all that you need for those few days of your offer.. (the offer was an half price offer before they were reduced)

Now if there is one thing that allotment growing has taught me, its to look at variety. For instance, I am addicted to Piccolo tomatoes, when buying cherry tomatoes, my heart quickens if I see those, I actively look them out and am sad if they are not there..

So, I stopped and listened to myself, and then carefully picked up each different variety and slightly, very gently squeezed the carton, so as not to bruise the fruit but just enough to allow a puff of air to escape out of the holes on the top of the tub, and sniffed.. There were varieties that are very pretty, look nice, keep their shape, etc, Elegance for one, but have no flavour.. After a little deduction I settled on Sweet Eve, the fragrance wafted out so strongly that they are on my to grow list and bought many tubs of them.

Just as an aside, there were many women that were shopping whilst I was conducting my little experiment and all wanted to gain as much as they could from this offer. Experienced women, family type women, in the middle of the day, not stressed working type women, sadly not one 'sniffed' or even realised that that there were various varieties on offer.. They just looked, murmured between each other and chose, some talked about the various attributes between a small and a large strawberry and on some previous memory chose, which is all we have sometimes. I wonder how much the supermarkets rely on this, I wonder how much the supermarkets rely on the fact that they have taught us to shop for fresh vegetables and fruit through plastic bags and tubs. As long as it looks nice, we will buy.


So later that day,

I quickly prepared the strawberries, whilst son no.2 was preparing the jars. I was working on the premise that as he wanted the jam he could help. (good thinking, no?!)

This was when the sugar had finally dissolved, I used lemon juice as my pectin, I would recommend a sugar thermometer you need to bring the jam up to 104 C and with that important piece of kit, you realise just how slowly it takes to come up to temperature with a pan full of jam.

But eventually you get this, lots of pots of yummy strawberry jam.

Just as another aside,,, hubby had to go out late last night just to buy croissants, just so that he could eat copious amounts of strawberry jam. Its that good..

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Hot Isn' t it?

It's even too hot to knit. But knitting I am, because babies don't wait!

So I wish to record that I have been knitting on the hottest day of the year so far and this day that we lost a football match to Germany - although when that was happening I was wandering around a nearly deserted John Lewis in Solihull looking at Wool and Kenwood Chefs. Sadly my Kenwood which has seen continuous service since 1953 seems to be on its last legs, its losing oil regularly which apparently is a very bad thing (hubby did explain it to me in detail a few weeks ago, but I am female and not in any way an engineer, the details have long since flown out of my head) so I keep teasing myself by looking at new models and then gasping for air at the price.

I did buy some lovely Rowan Extra Fine Merino DK in colours that I adore, and, you know I said that I wasn't to buy much this year, well hubby paid! (I'm not quite sure how I managed that one, but I'm still smiling about it)

Getting back to the knitting, I can't give too many clues away, as the mum to be is a regular reader of my blog, I might photograph a tiny piece soon just to tease her with it....

I've also managed to finish son no.2 size thirteen UK feet which are very wide. We would have called them the size of dustbin lids, I expect that saying will age me as these days we use recycling bins.

These are knit in Wollmeise 100% Merino Superwash in the colourway Amazonas. I cast on 68 stitches and knit with 2.5mm needles.

I actually knit them far too long and pulled them back again, but I'm still not sure that they are absolutely right, they could be just a little bit long.

Although when the boy stands up, you can see how his feet spread, (the previous two photographs were taken when he was sitting down) and that seems to take up the excess.

He loves them.

Oh, and the Strawberry Sprite seems to have found his way back to my home, I must have looked after him very well last year. He has been leaving me little gifts of fragrant strawberries still warm from the plot.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The most perfect of days.

Sometimes in life you just have the most wonderful day when you are least expecting it. Unfortunately there are no photographs of this day, so your just going to have to rely on my narration - which to be honest often leaves a lot to be desired, but I'll try my best.

My allotment and knitting pal Marie was having a little party at her plot on the allotments of which I attended rather late, having the knitting group and a hubby to look after. (hubby is a poorly boy, nothing terribly serious just an odd temperature and a course of antibiotics) I wandered up to the plots thinking, 'well Marie has probably gone home', but Marie was just wandering down the main path with a group of women, some of which already knew me, some of which I was introduced as P's daughter, so they know me now. *wink* (Mum line dances twice a week - it was foremost a party for the line dancers)

Having spent a lovely morning with my knitting group I was already in a very relaxed state of mind, so wandering up to her plot and this on such a balmy day was absolutely blissful.

We had tea and home made asparagus and cheese quiche and slices of a home made sausage roll (which was incredible because it had cheese in and lots of other ingredients, I've been promised the recipe) and lots of other treats, including freshly picked (as in just picked off the plant, I watched Marie pick them) strawberries dipped in a cold rose wine.

I got there just before two and I eventually departed at seven, five hours of contented bliss, with nibbles and tea and wine sat under a Pussy Willow looking outwards to a well tended plot engaged in good conversation. When I say good conversation you know it will mean chatter about plots, plants, muck, homemade compost and knitting! Well of course there was also chatter about children and grandchildren, husbands, parents, places we have lived and of course many other topics that women engage in. It was absolutely blissful.

Highlights of the day (allotmenteers will understand this) giggling over the pee bucket and using it, - hers is much taller than mine, it's made me rethink my pee bucket which is rather low, the story about how the frogs had died in Marie's pond due to the very harsh winter and her (in vivid detail) sorting this out.. I won't repeat this it was far too graphic, but let us say I was rockin' and rollin' in my chair from laughter... stories were exchanged about how we both run away from the chap(s) that are very keen to know us.. (females are still quite rare on the plots) and best of all was when Marie showed me photographs of her previous plot in Birmingham, I was in awe, such a lovely place to be, it had everything including a beautiful, large, building that people could meet in, it would be so lovely to have that.

As I say, this was the best of days.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Wanderer Returns.

Meet Boswell,

Boswell is a beautiful cat (if a little grumpy) and came to us as a stray nearly ten years ago when had been found wandering in Birmingham. We loved him so and he was happy with us for a couple of years but the old lady a few doors away decided that she loved Boswell too and called him Sandy. Now the old lady had a history of kidnapping or should I say catnapping peoples pussy cats and then leaving them in distress when they became old and sick so I wasn't best pleased when she took a liking to Boswell. I tried to talk to her, its very difficult to talk to someone that looks and acts like she is in the throes of senile dementia. I spoke to her daughter at length and asked her to ask her mother to stop feeding our cat and to stop the carers buying cat food. It all fell on deaf ears, Boswell became fatter and fatter and it wasn't us doing the feeding. It made us upset but what could we do without taking some sort of legal action, I then phoned a solicitor who specialises in dogs and the law and we both agreed that taking a very old lady who was senile to court wasn't the best plan in the world.

I even put a collar on him with his name and phone number and on the back it read. Do Not Feed, Diabetic Cat. It was completely ignored.

So although I saw Boswell occasionally and when I could grabbed a hold of him to throw worming tablets down his throat and douse him with flea spray there wasn't very much more we could do.

I often wondered what would happen when the lady became too old to look after Boswell, because all things being equal I knew he would probably still need caring for, well I have found out what these caring people chose to do about his care all these years on.

They abandoned him.

Hubby saw an ambulance at the old lady's home over a week ago and sure enough within 48 hours I notice Boswell is wandering around our home looking lost and lonely. The next day I enticed him in and opened a tin of special 'just in case you need it and you won't eat dried food' cat food. It was like the return of the prodigal son and killing the fatted calf. And what was once a huge weighty cat has turned into skin and bone. (I know the photographs look like he still is a large cat but that is his long fur) Who knows how long he hadn't been cared for. I worry that they will have an attack of the guilts and decide to take him to the nearest rescue centre. He is micro chipped in our name so I am hoping that he would come back to us. Should I write a letter to them? and saying what exactly? It all fell on deaf ears before, would it spur them on to do something like that. Its all very confusing.

But he is home, he was incredibly dirty, ate a tin and a half of cat food within an hour then slept for 24 hours. I am glad to see him home and Boswell seems to be glad to be home too, we are a few days in and he's accepting the new whipper snappers also known as Eric and Florence and they are accepting him. Although they don't quite understand why Boswell is on the tinned food because they would rather like that..

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Knitting Workshop.

In the darkest days of February I emailed Jane Crowfoot to see if she would be happy to teach Kenilworth Knit and Natter a workshop on Finishing Techniques. When she said Yes I was overjoyed and have since then been slowly organising this little event. I knew it would be the perfect workshop, not least because the genius of Jane goes before her, she is very well regarded for both her workshops and her books along with her profile from working with Rowan and Debbie Bliss but also I thought the group would benefit from a workshop such as this.

Jane started with understanding tension and why it is important. (fortunately I was in the group that does knit a tension square, but there weren't many of us!) Next was picking up stitches, this was very tricky and I struggled with it but I did manage to pick up for my neckline in the end.

I think we all did a beautiful job of our necklines. All too soon it was time to break for lunch during which time Jane measured our work and arranged it so that we could easily see who was a tight knitter and who was a loose knitter.

Lunch as you would expect from a gastro pub was gorgeous. The Almanack is such a wonderful location for a knitting group and their private dining room is absolutely perfect for a workshop, just look at those huge windows they let in such wonderful light.

The afternoon flew by where we covered technique after technique, I think we could have gone on for another few hours, or possibly another whole day...

You can see the intense concentration

on every one's faces.

Jane bought along her cushion kits,

absolutely gorgeous, a wonderful combination of knitting, crocheting and beading. Another project chalked up on my to do list.

But wait, there is even more afoot. Jane has teamed up with Debbie Abrahams - the brainchild behind the Mystery Blanket Knitting Club - to launch 'The Crochet Club'

It is all very exciting and having seen taster photographs I am giddy with excitement. It does mean that I will have to ask Sue how to teach me to crochet, but as she has willingly offered to teach me I think we may well end up being partners in crime on this new project.

And just so that you can experience the sharp intake of breath that one feels when you see something truly exquisite.

The Crochet Club

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Quilts, Cakes and Birthday Wishes.

It was my birthday yesterday and I've had such a lovely time. Mainly because my Birthday seems to have gone on for such a long time, starting with being presented with an absolutely lovely cake made by Cynthia on Thursday along with a card everyone had signed.

I was absolutely stunned to be given something so beautiful it completely took my breath away. Cynthia has made the rose and petals completely out of sugar, isn't she clever, I could never do anything as fine as that. Perhaps we should ask her to do a workshop on sugar crafting!

And then Noelle stepped forward with these beautiful roses from her garden.

Oh the scent of these roses was so strong, they were unbelievable. My Mum, Dad and Auntie were waiting for me after knitting and they were seriously impressed with this rose, it took them back to bygone days when one could smell the strong heady scent of roses on a warm summers evening. Noelle has told me this climbing rose is called Etoile de Hollande and it was a great favourite of her parents whilst they were based in Mauritius during her childhood. I shall be buying some come the Autumn, both Mother and Auntie have put it on their shopping lists too. It doesn't escape me that my rose on the cake seems to be modeled after these roses - which still makes me giggle with delight.

And then already laden down with cake and roses Diane gave me these beautiful flowers.

Aren't they beautiful, a lovely snapshot of vibrant summer flowers, they really brighten up my living room and I know they will last a very long time. When it was time to go I struggled to get out of the door, its a good job I had a posse of helpers waiting for me to help get them home.

Hubby and I were trying to keep the cake until Tuesday but by Friday evening our resolve had worn thin, as the cake wouldn't stop calling to us from the fridge and we managed to enjoy two slices of it (one on Friday and one on Saturday) with cream And strawberries before the boys radars kicked in and they realised the cake had been started.. You can guess the rest...

Hubby was intending to take me to the V & A Quilts:1700 - 2010 on my birthday but on Saturday evening we decided against using the train on Tuesday and that we would travel down by car on Sunday. Hubby loves to drive around in London, its where he learned to drive and took his driving test, it holds no fear to him. He's marvelous actually, apart from the fact that he throws the car around Hyde Park Corner like a racing driver, (whilst his wife hangs on for grim death) I sit there and say... "Can we go to so and so?" and he blinks and possibly blinks twice and says "Yep" and we are on our way, he doesn't need to check a map, or think very much, he just knows where he is and how to get to where he, or his wife wants to be. But basically maps are like circuits and that is something he is a genius in.

We arrived at the V & A shortly after 10:00 a.m. Just walking into the main entrance of the V & A is an experience in itself. Not forgetting the wonderful architecture of the building itself you are met with this,

an 11 metre high, blown glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly.

I didn't take any photographs, if you click on the link above it will take you to the quilts on the V & A site where you can open them up to have a better look at them. Without going into all of the details about the quilts because I could be here forever, if you do get to go, take them up on the offer of their ipod guide, you do get so much more out of the exhibition with this.

I was not disappointed with my birthday treat, the quilts were wonderful to look at and I am so very glad that I was able to see them. We had tea in the The Morris cafe, (absolutely stunning you will have to google it if you want to see it,) whilst a beautifully dressed gentleman played the grand piano placed in the corner of the room. The last time I had such a treat was in Poland nineteen years ago.

The only place that I wanted to go to in London was Liberty's to look at fabrics and scissors, so we took a taxi from the V & A having parked our trusty steed extremely close to the V & A and being reluctant to move it, not least because there would not be parking around Liberty's. It was a wise decision.

I'm still not quite sure what was happening in Regent Street.

There was a street festival about Spain, it was rammed. You struggled to walk a few paces without bumping into someone, thousands upon thousands of people were there. I just wish I'd had more time to enjoy it but Liberty's was calling and we were on Sunday shopping hours.

We looked around Liberty's but we didn't find anything that I wanted (shocking isn't it!) apart from a couple of squares of felt that I have plans for. When we got back to the car hubby took me on a quick trip around London, most of my photographs failed because he is driving at speed and I am no photographer but we managed to take a few.

The road through Hyde Park was open (sadly the roads to Buckingham Palace are closed on a Sunday) and we saw

The Serpentine.

Next stop was Bayswater Road, on our first wedding anniversary we walked along the Bayswater Road on a Sunday to choose a piece of art to keep. As usual there were some lovely artists,





it is easy to while away a Sunday afternoon, we must do it again soon.

and in no particular order as my mental map of London had long since disappeared as hubby whizzed us around.

I saw Marble Arch and,

Nelson.

(Next time I will try to photograph him before it is becoming dark)

It was most definitely time for supper then, so we headed to China town.

We walked around the restaurants for a while when instinct and the delightful smells coming from one particular restaurant told us to try it - that and the many awards it had won so carefully displayed on its window. Fungshing was an absolute delight, from the moment we walked in we were made to feel very welcome. The menu was very interesting and there are many dishes that I would like to go back and try, this may become our home from home favourite restaurant. Although the menu was not as lengthy as some Chinese restaurants you come across, you felt that what they did, they did well. The wine list was Very interesting and it almost made hubby howl with despair that we didn't live nearer so that he could indulge himself a little. We shared some crispy Peking duck and then had eels in black bean, a huge platter of scallops which I'd asked to be cooked with ginger and spring onion which was no problem to them at all, and beef in oyster sauce. It was all very good. I saw a huge lobster being taken to another party, it looked extremely pretty and is on my food I may order next time I go list.

All too soon it was time to go home.

Monday came with a trip to my twin sister for a coffee morning/birthday party where on collecting me for the trip out Mum and Dad gave me these beautiful flowers.


and when Tuesday (the birthday itself) arrived I was absolutely shattered. Hubby came home with this from the shops..

More birthday cake, Yippee!

Later in the day we mooched around The Mailbox in Birmingham, I bought towels which were nicely priced but extremely high quality and we admired the canals. Had a bite to eat at our favourite Chinese restaurant (two Chinese meals in three days - eek!)

And came home to find this...

More Cake!!!

This is the year of the birthday cake this is.,

Mum had made it for me and carefully delivered it to son no.2 who on pain of death was told to place it in the fridge and not to touch.

Rest assured Mum it was in perfect condition when I came home. Thank you xxx