Friday, April 30

Kitchen sprouting

I've sprouted beans before, but usually in a jar with a piece of muslin fastened over the top. It works ok this way, but is not ideal. You need quite a big jar, and if you don't drain it properly, the beans end up sitting in a layer water and can go mouldy.

Having dug a few half-used packets of sprouting beans out of the kitchen cupboard I decided it was time to try again - but this time with the right equipment. Bean sprouters can be bought for about £7, but I figured that this was just the sort of thing that someone was sure to have gathering dust in the back of a kitchen cupboard.

This was a job for Freecycle! I do a lot of offering on Freecycle, but not much wanting, so I posted my request with mixed feelings about the possible success rate. Within a couple of hours a very nice Freecycler nearby had offered a bean sprouter, and by the end of the day it was in my possession!

And what a nifty object it proves to be!
It has three 'shelves', each with thin slots in them to allow water to drain through. They fit together neatly to keep the inside relatively damp and prevent it from drying out totally.

First soak the beans overnight in water.

Put them in the sprouter and rinse them twice a day with fresh water. Keep the sprouter on a plate to catch the drips. You can grow two crops on the two shelves, staggering the sowing to ensure a supply of sprouts. Keep in natural light, but away from direct sunlight.

Er, that's it! Here's what you get after a few days.

Mix with pumpkin or sesame seeds, ripe tomatoes and avocados and you have the making of a very fine salad, or add to your sandwich in place of limp lettuce.

Thursday, April 29

Knitted house

I'm a bit behind with this one, but have just picked it up from Glittyknittykitty. Watch the ad first and try and work out how they did it before you watch the film about the making of the ad. Feeling toasty?

Sunday, April 25

Bowled over

I'm a bit of a sucker for kitchen paraphernalia of a certain era, and I do love a bit of good design.

Hence I was super thrilled to find these bright orange, plastic, nesting mixing bowls at a second hand shop in Ventnor. They are Danish, the make is Ira and the designer is Alf Rimer. Apart from the handy loop with which you can clutch the bowl as you beat your cake mix, they have a non-slip rim around the base to stop the bowl shifting around when you stir vigorously. Normally I have to employ a damp dishcloth for this purpose. Each bowl has measures marked on them on the inside.

And later the same day, a lovely piece of crockery came my way. This is Broadhurst china, the Carnival range. Even dishwasher proof, the stamp on the underneath claims!

Friday, April 23

More IOW preserves

Last weekend's Isle of Wight trip was very fruitful in terms of preserves - not that Chez Knit Nurse is short of homemade preserves, you understand, but I always like to try out the opposition just to make sure that I'm not missing a trick.

Not having a food processor, I've always shied away from making beetroot preserves because of the fag of having to grate the beetroot by hand. Luckily one of the stall holders at Ventnor's antiques-cum-bric-a-brac-cum-country-market event had done the hard work for me with his beetroot chutney. I've just sampled it and can confirm it's delicious. I'm confident I'll be through that jar in no time. Another version I particularly like is beetroot and horseradish chutney which a friend often brings me from a stall in Otley farmer's market in Yorkshire.

One of our walks also took in the famous Isle of Wight Garlic Farm, where the shop is a fabulous place to browse and try out about two dozen different chutneys and pickles. Just don't go at the end of the day, when the box of crackers that is provided to nibble with the chutneys is reduced to a box of crumbs!

The jar above is what I chose from all the many different and fabulously tasty options on offer (not the banana one though, that was decidedly offensive to my taste buds). In the interests of research I have just cracked it open and tasted one of the whole garlic cloves, just to remind myself what it tastes like. And then I had another. And then I had to come back to the computer to stop myself scoffing the whole damn lot in one go.

Garlicky yes, but also a little bit spicy, sweet from the sugar, and strangely almost minty when you bite into the cloves. And very, very moreish.

Ingredients: Garlic (43%!), white sugar, white wine vinegar, curry powder, black peppercorns.

According to the River Cottage Handbook no 2: Preserves by Pam Corbin, which a very kind friend just gave me for a late birthday present, pickled garlic is very easy to make but it's important to get the new season's bulbs, which are sweeter and better for pickling.

There will be more from this book over the coming months as I make my way through it. If you are into any form of preserving (except perhaps taxidermy) it is thoroughly recommended, not just for common sense advice and easy-to-follow recipes, but also for some great inspiration. Elixir of sage or nasturtium capers, anyone?

And finally, in case you were wondering, the boots enjoyed their break too. I love this photo, makes me feel calm and relaxed - although Gaz says it's a bit too Reggie Perrin for him!

Monday, April 19

The Luccombe jam man and other tales

Just back from a glorious weekend in the Isle of Wight, in my humble opinion one of the south's best kept secrets.

Highlights included the traditional visit to the jam table, aka the Luccombe jam man who keeps his stall on the Ventnor-Shanklin coastal path fully stocked with jam, marmalade and pickled onions, and an honesty box for payment.

We also enjoyed a walk around Hamstead, Bouldnor and Shalfleet, which gave great views across the Solent and included some very interesting marshes which were mostly crossed by extensive boardwalks.

Walking around Arreton Down in the central part of the island we came across lots of these peculiar plants which were just showing their heads above the grass.

I'm surprisingly knowledgeable about plants and birdsong and all that (thanks mum!) but this was my first sighting of the fertile stems of horsetail. Horsetail is a very primitive plant, distinctive in its appearance and one which reproduces by the use of spores, like fungi, rather than seeds. These stems had powdery spores all around the rather phallic heads. The green, branched non-fertile stems grow separately.

Saturday, April 10

Blackthorn in bloom/Sustrans route 1 Gillingham to Faversham

Today's ride took in yet another section of Sustrans National Route 1, which I am hoping to ride in its entirety between south east London and Dover over the coming months. Broadstairs to Dover was completed last year on a three day trip, and I've done all of Deptford to Dartford numerous times over the years. I did part of the Gravesend to Rochester section via the Hoo peninsula earlier this year.

Yesterday in glorious sunshine I took the train to Gillingham with the intention of getting to Whitstable - in fact I only managed to get to Faversham, but that was a respectable 30 miles, not too bad for a leisurely three hour ride.

If you intend to do this ride, TAKE A MAP and expect to have to make your own way around Sittingbourne, or Shittingbourne as I've now renamed it. In fact if you can bypass it altogether, probably best to do so. It never looked great from the train and now I know it definitely is not great. What's more I need a word with Kent County Council/Swale Borough Council about their cycle route signage, or lack of it, in that particular location. A seemingly endless ride through miles of dirty, dreary and busy industrial estates - navigating mostly through guesswork - culminated in a vanishing cycle path and an uninspiring detour which was almost as drab as Shittingbourne itself. At the other end of the missing section, I found a notice about a footpath closure, although according to the map it shouldn't have affected the route of the cycle path.


Well I didn't let it mar an otherwise glorious ride. The route out of Gillingham hugs the estuary through the Riverside Country Park and there were surprisingly pleasant views over mudflats and across to the huge cranes on the other side.

Most of the lanes were lined with blackthorn, its heady scent and beautiful flowers dominating the landscape (along with rows and rows of fruit trees just going into leaf - perhaps worth a trip back in a few weeks to see these flowers!)

Some sections are on bridleways, a bit of a challenge for my touring bike tyres but I escaped without any punctures and without sliding off on the gravel. Bike chain's a bit sandy now though, due a good clean!

Despite the Shittingbourne debacle I made it into Faversham in the end, just as the market was packing up. This is a lovely little town with some delightful pubs and good walking nearby - worth a trip on the train if you get chance.

Wednesday, April 7


Just made the red soy sauce that forms the first part of this recipe.

Although it's essentially just soy sauce and sugar with some spices and a dash of rice wine, I am itching to get on to the noodles and the remainder of the sauce, not least because I just bought a pot of Sichuan peppers and am already addicted to the lemony tingly buzz they give!

Out tomorrow and Thursday nights - how will I resist till Friday?!

A day at the seaside

Easter Monday proved all the weather forecasts wrong - at least in Hastings where myself and the Curse passed a very pleasant day with some former neighbours who have now escaped to the seaside.

After gazing in silent awe at the bountiful property that can be purchased with the proceeds of a two bed London flat, we chilled out and enjoyed a traditional seaside bank holiday.

Didn't quite make it to the crazy golf but we did go up the East Cliff in the newly-restored funicular railway, enjoyed a couple of pints outside one of Hastings' many pubs, bought some fresh crab and dry-cured bacon to take back home, and had a couple of bags of fresh doughnuts (or 'donuts' as they seem to have been renamed) to munch on the way to the station.

All very small-town and relaxing, but I've decided the city is the place for me right now.

Sunday, April 4

A corner of the island

Otherwise known as Newcastle Draw Dock, just a few minutes walk from Island Gardens DLR station on the Isle of Dogs.

It's a quiet little spot, I spent a short time beachcombing yesterday, the small beach is littered with colourful pieces of brick that have been worn by the Thames into shadows of their former selves. All sharp edges worn away with the action of the tides, leaving beautiful orange and yellow tactile lumps scattered along the shore. Builders' rubble transformed into something delightful.

The riverfront walkways are a nice place to sit and gaze over at the tourist madness of bank-holiday-weekend Greenwich, and to admire the classic panorama of the old Royal Naval College, the Queen's House and the Observatory lined up behind one another. From the beach you can see the Cutty Sark pub (although it's rather overshadowed by the ugly apartments) and the power station, and watch the boats chug by.

Plum and chilli jam

Not necessarily for use on your toast, although there's nothing to say you shouldn't!

The original recipe I found for this included arrowroot as the thickening ingredient. Not being able to source any arrowroot in my local shops, and having bought a bag of cheap plums off the market, I decided to make my own adaptation of the recipe by adding plums and doubling the amount of sugar. The resulting jam is not scarily sweet as you might imagine, the chillies give it a nice edge.

Plum & chilli jam

1lb/450g plums, halved and stoned
8 birds eye chillies
2 cloves garlic
2" root ginger
400g sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp fish sauce (can be left out for veggies, although I think it gives the jam its edge)
220ml cider vinegar

(I also added about 50ml of water but I think it would be better without it as my jam is still slightly loose; the water from the plums should give you enough liquid along with the cider vinegar)

Chop the chillies, deseeded if you wish (I left seeds in four, and deseeded four). Peel and grate the ginger, and peel and crush the garlic cloves.

Put everything except the sugar into a saucepan and cook until the plums begin to fall apart. Fish out the plum skins as they come away from the flesh.

Add the sugar and bring to a rolling boil for as long as it takes to reach setting point. To work this out, put a saucer in the fridge to chill and then when the jam starts to thicken, take the saucer out of the fridge and drip a small amount of jam onto it. After a short while you will see it start to set (or if not, continue boiling the jam).

Decant into sterilised jars (5 mins in the oven at gas 2).