Saturday, March 27

Nesting begins

Every year I buy a coir liner for my little hanging basket, and every spring the magpies pull it apart for their nests. We (I) have learned to share without getting annoyed - at least it makes me refresh the soil in the basket! Looks like the nesting season is well under way - as soon as these jaunty mini daffs have gone over, I'll be off to buy a new liner.

Meanwhile the tomato seedlings are coming on a treat - these are cherry tomato plants that I've just potted up today. The regular tomato seedlings are up, and basil, chilli and padron pepper seeds are in their pots hopefully starting to germinate!

Friday, March 19

Hot apple chutney

Hot as in spicy, not temperature!

I bought a jar of this last year at the Tenterden Country Market (Women's Institute sale) during a cycling trip around the Kent coast. Its flavour has haunted me ever since - in a good way, I hasten to add! It wasn't like any chutney I'd had before - although it was mostly apple it did not really taste of apple, it brought a myriad of mysterious spices to the mouth, exploding with flavour and heat in a truly addictive way!

Luckily the label listed the ingredients, I've been saving it on the jar ever since. Although I couldn't find an exact recipe anywhere, I managed to find one that was close enough for me to use as a starting point.

It still needs a little work - the original recipe doesn't mention rinsing the salt off the apple slices before you put them in the chutney, but on reflection I think I should have done this. I rescued about half of them and rinsed them, but I still think the resulting chutney will be a bit salty. Also I misread the amount of turmeric, and put twice as much in as was needed, so my wooden spoons and plastic jug are rather yellow at the moment!

I added fenugreek to the recipe I found on, and left out the raisins. I also left the sugar until the very last, rather than putting it in with the apples - this helps them break down better.

2lb (900g) cooking apples, peeled, cored & sliced
2tbsp salt
half a cup (4floz) vegetable oil
1 head garlic, peeled
1" (25mm) ginger root, peeled
2tsp mustard seeds
15 peppercorns, crushed
2tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric
2tsp fenugreek
3 dried chillies, crushed
half a cup (4floz) cider vinegar
4oz (100g) sugar

Sprinkle the salt over the apple slices and set aside.

Crush half the garlic and grate half the ginger, thinly slice the rest. Heat the oil (yes I know it's a lot of oil) in a large pan and fry the garlic and ginger gently for a few minutes.

Add the rest of the spices and fry gently for a further three or four minutes.

Rinse the apple slices and add to the pan along with the vinegar. Cover the pan and cook until the apple has broken down. Add the sugar and cook for a further five minutes.

Spoon into sterilised jars, fill as full as you can.(Sterilise them by rinsing with boiling water - both the jar and lid - or putting them in a low oven for about five minutes). Let it mature for 4-6 weeks before eating. Mmmmm!

Sunday, March 14

My first jumper

I am showing you this picture for two reasons: firstly because it features my mum and dad (albeit some years ago!), and I'm thinking about them both on Mother's Day. I don't see any reason for favouritism as they have both featured heavily in making me who I am today.

The second reason is that I'm wearing the FIRST EVER jumper that I knitted. It was pretty damn ambitious for an amateur teen knitter, but in those days I knew no fear. It used about four or five different colours in a stranded pattern on the front, while the back and sleeves were just plain. The ribbed neck rolled over and was stitched to form a thicker band.

I did a bloody good job of it, and was very proud to wear it.

A third reason I'm showing you this triumph of knitwear is to prove that I did make some nice tasteful items. If I'm feeling brave in the next few days, I will show you a picture of the project that followed it - and that should never have been allowed out of the house.

Saturday, March 13

The excitement of business travel

Quite apart from hours of airport queuing and flights full of school parties of Italian teenagers, my recent trip involved the glamour of driving for miles on busy motorways (now have a bad back), bland motels with nothing on the tele but football or Euro-soaps, six visits to factories/offices in ugly suburbs and the prospect of wrestling with exchange rates on the expenses form on my return.

Of course it's not all so glum - I did manage to glimpse the city of Como and a couple of Swiss lakes out of the car window, and I sampled some excellent pizzas. But on the whole I'd rather sleep in my own bed and eat what I have cooked myself.

Here's a few snatches of Euro-soap in case you have forgotten or don't know just how bad they are. Come to that I can't say I'm a fan of English soaps either - unless we are talking about the Archers of course.....!

Anyone suggest any good captions for these?

Tuesday, March 9

Long weekend delights

A weekend in the Cotswolds provided super weather, some fabulous meals, wondrous real ales (a pub with loyalty cards ffs!) stunning walks and views, roaring fires, great company, clear skies that showed us millions of stars, great bread even if it was outrageously expensive and dream boots!

Thursday, March 4

Herons of the Hoo

A fortuitous combination of a day's holiday and some sunny weather saw me exploring the RSPB reserve at Northward Hill in the Hoo Peninsula. Despite some grey skies this morning, the clouds scooted away soon after lunch and the sun came out. There was still a rather cold breeze, but in sheltered spots it was really quite warm.

Apparently Northward Hill is home to north-west Europe's largest heronry, which I found quite surprising - partly because I didn't realise that such a thing existed, and partly because it seems such a random spot. But the tall trees of the woodland that clothe the slopes of the hill are home to about 100 herons, the website says, and indeed today I reckon I saw about 30 of them. Most of them were in the pose shown above, and most quite a lot higher up in the sky!

There wasn't much to see from the viewing spot next to the woods, but as I emerged over a stile into one of the fields on the edge of the marshland, about 15 herons flew up from the field a few hundred yards away. And then I realised that the white dots I'd dismissed as seagulls were in fact the heads of herons peeping out from the long grass in the distance.

About half of them flew over to the woods where they stayed until I was at a safe distance, then returned one or two at a time.

I was rather disadvantaged as I'd forgotten to bring my binoculars - I was hoping there would be a hide closer to the pools so that I would be able to see something - but most of the viewing spots were at some distance from the waterfowl. Nevertheless I did get a fabulous close-up view of a green woodpecker which flew into the trees behind me as I was looking out for avocets (didn't see any). I also surprised a fox which skipped across the path in front of me in the woods - quite a shock for both of us. I don't often get to see them in the wild, just in our back yard!

In the bright sunshine the colours of the lichen and tree bark were bright and eye-catching.

Incredible that some people think this glorious place would make a good spot for an airport. The hill, the marshes and everything around would have been destroyed if the proposal for Cliffe Airport had been approved, and the habitat and birdlife is still at risk from Boris Johnson's proposal to build a floating airport in the Thames estuary. We need fewer airports, not more!

Apologies that this post seems to have been hijacked and diverted from its original intentions, it just happened. Never mind, I believe I am still on-topic!

(I recommend clicking on this picture to get the full glory of the view - a huge expanse of marshland stretching out ahead. The Coryton oil refinery in the background is a stark reminder of the industrialisation of much of the Thames east of the Dartford crossing.)