Culinary/cultivation bulletin

I haven’t had a chance to cook much at all recently, what with being away, but here’s a few gems:

One birthday present was a book on cooking with coffee and chocolate. Greatly appreciated: I love coffee flavoured things, so can’t wait for opportunities to make things out of it. P not a consumer of caffeine at all, so we may have to wait until we next have guests. Since the early part of next year will be devoted to electioneering, and since we’ve been here nearly a year and not had a housewarming party or even had many of our friends round, we plan on doing as much entertaining as possible in the next few months. Once we’ve tidied up. It’s CHAOS here – Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

I had an attempt at making watermelon sorbet before I went away: puréed most of a watermelon left over from a picnic and froze it with a mugful of sugar syrup. I didn’t stir it enough so it froze rock solid, and is rather difficult to eat. I’m having to attack it with knives every so often and pretend I meant it to be a granita. Perhaps that’s what ice grinders are meant for. I’m also attempting using it to flavour cocktails. It’s currently sharing a glass with a gin and tonic. I overdid the the gin a bit as the bottle was nearly empty so I can’t actualy tell whether or not it tastes nice. I think it would also work quite well in a champagne punch. We have some very cheap fizz from France. Must try! Have been very tempted to throw a garden party of our own, but we’ve probably missed the best of the weather now and our garden is hardly tidier than our house.

I roasted a chicken last weekend to check whether I still could. I can. The cats go crazy for hours once they start smelling the chicken and frenzied begging ensues when I actually start to carve the thing. The chicken did four human meals (fricaséed the remainder into a sweet and sour sauce the following day) and kept the cats fed for a couple of days as well. Bargain.

Kimbo has been pruning her bay tree and rather than compost or chuck the trimmings, she offered spare leaves to all takers in UMRA. I waved my little hand, eventually managed to get my address through her spamtrap, and when I returned from my holiday I had a jiffy bag full of bay leaves to add to my recipes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. For a couple of quid, the spice vendors at the supermarket will offer maybe ten leaves. I got a jiffybagful out of the goodness of Kimbo’s heart. I must send her a postcard to say thanks. The first bayleaf helped stuff last weekend’s chicken. I’m sure it was thrilled.

Don’t think it will be a struggle to find blackberries this year. Just one bramble poking over the fence has already yielded over half a pound of blackberries, with plenty more unripened on the bramble, and still more out of reach until I take a chair into the garden. Not sure if I should make jam, since we brought an unfeasibly large collection of obscure Bonne Maman flavours back with us from Normandy earlier in the year, and we still haven’t eaten all of last year’s homemade jam, some of which is lurking in the cupboard. But I really must get some strawberries before it’s too late. I should have gone picking whilst I was in Herefordshire.

My chilli plants don’t look like they’re going to flower in time. Nights are drawing in already, and although they look healthy and bushy, there is no sign of any flowers, and without the flowers, there aren’t going to be any fruits. The lean-to is ideal for them – the max-min thermometer says it’s been nearly 40degC in there at times – but still no flowers.

Asking a friend of P’s what we could plant in the garden now for eating overwinter resulted in her coming around with a pot of leek seedlings, so I’ve planted those out and am hoping for better results with them than with the attempts at peas and beans earlier in the year that just simply never came up. P’s friend also brought us some packets of seeds for rocket, lettuce and spinach, but there just isn’t any bare earth to put them in. I shall try harder at clearing some space tomorrow, but until we get the fence fixed, the best flowerbeds are overshadowed by collapsing fence panels.

The mystery fruit in the garden is still unidentified, but they’re getting bigger and bigger and starting to turn blue when they ripen. Damsons? Sloes? If they’re sloes, then archdruid has some interesting ideas about putting them in with an anise spirit like pernod, vanilla pods and coffee beans and making a liqueur called Patxaran. I don’t think they can be sloes — they started red, and then turned blue. Cut them in half and they have pips like apples not a stone. I think they’re also too big.

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Photos from the garden

When I got back from electioneering on Thursday, it was still bright and sunny , so I hopped round the garden happy-snapping at plants. It’s taken til now to find time to upload them. The full results are here, but below are some edited highlights.

We’re still following the advice of letting the garden get on with it for the first year before taking any radical decisions, so most of the plants there we inherited. The only exception is the large row of evergreen trees that the insurance company wanted us to cut down because they were endangering our foundations. Amongst the tree-stumps, I am planting veg seeds, so far runner beans, French beans, peas and lettuce. Nothing has sprouted yet.

An overview of the garden visible from the house. There’s a cat hiding under the bush in the middle, and you can just see the patio. Just out of shot at the bottom is the patio with plants in tubs, and the lean-to, with clutter. With the trees in leaf, the garden is very little overlooked — they mask the tower blocks almost completely. Out of shot on the top left is the bottom wedge of the garden, with the shed and compost bin.
This plant is growing up the wall next to the lean-to and seems to be suffering some kind of disease that is killing off half the leaves. They’re turning a white colour. I don’t think it’s variegation.
First step off the patio is this lovely yellow thing, now mostly past its best and probably in need of a prune. Growing underneath it is a pansy.
This is a well trodden animal path down the lawn–we’ve seen a regular parade of black and white cats come through the garden, and we suspect foxes do as well. It’s overdue time to buy our first lawnmower!
Eight bean poles, sixteen bean seedlings in the ground for nearly a fortnight now, but no sign of germination. Runner beans are one of a select band of vegetables I actually like. My grandfather used to grow huge quantities and freeze them.
One of the many black-and-white cats that parade through our garden every day, peeking impertinently through the French windows and wondering that we have the temerity to walk in our own garden.

There are two different pink flowering trees at the bottom of the garden.

The bench faces the birdfeeder.
The bottom of the garden looks like remote woodland, not city suburb. There’s a squirrel in that tree.

Blackberries




Blackberries

Originally uploaded by nilexuk.

Aha! Found some. In a councillor’s garden. Enough to fill a punnet, but not enough to jam, so I’ll be freezing them and coming back to them later.

Hmm. Interesting formatting, thanks Flickr.