Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

A walk around the garden (part 2)

In June, we walked around the garden and had a little look at everything, in anticipation of the changes that would come with summer. And they did. So last night, I thought, tomorrow I’ll do another walk around the garden, that’ll be nice.

And then it rained. And I walked anyway. So let’s go!

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Let’s start next to the back door. This is the cherry tree and that little stick above the leaf, the stick with nothing on the end of it. That held our entire cherry harvest for the year. Yep. One cherry. We have one little cherry. And it was stolen. I imagine it was a bird. Apparently they love cherries. It was unfair of them to take our only cherry though.

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Plums! Woop woop! These are doing pretty well at the moment. Its taken them a little while to get going but they’re looking good now.

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Tomatoes. I love when there are tomatoes at different stages of ripeness on the same bunch.

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This lavender plant has gone absolutely mad! During the day it is covered in bees and that makes me very happy.

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In between all the lavender plants is the lone rosemary bush. I love popping outside while cooking to grab some rosemary.

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More lavender.

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That beautiful mystery tree with the white flowers….? Yeh, it didn’t last long.

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The rain hasn’t done the flower corner any good 😦

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New petunias by the shed.

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More petunias!

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The new rhubarb plant! I got it from Ham House.

Diary of my first week in my new job

On Monday, I started a new job as a chef (!) and was very excited. I got given a chef’s jacket and a black apron and I tucked a towel into the apron straps (like a proper chef) and got started.

Day 1 – Go, go, go! There’s croissants to bake, thereafter vegetables to grill, there’s a side of beef to roast. There was so much to remember, so much to do. I got my head down and did what I was told. I knew I was slow. New people always are. But I knew how to work hard and I knew how to be keen. So I did both of those. My back struggled with the crouching and bending and lifting etc and I felt a little like an old woman. But it was good. I was learning.

Day 2 – More croissants, more vegetables, more salad leaves, more confusion. I chopped tomatoes until I thought there must be no more tomatoes left in the entire world.

Day 3 – The obvious tension between one staff member and the manager became difficult to stay out of. I was asked for an opinion on matters in which they opposed each other. I smiled innocently, put my head down and sliced onions.

Day 4 – This was happening. So I wasn’t in a great place. The staff member who spends her time being shouted at by the manager came in and told us there had been a bereavement in her family the day before. The manager let her go home. He made a comment that nothing had been done to get ready for the day. I got a bit crazy and was like, “What do you mean?! I’m working really hard here!” There was chat. The air was cleared. I explained that I wasn’t feeling that great.

Day 5 – Better. Much better. I understood him better. He was sympathetic to what had happened. I was still slow but I was learning and I was able to just get my head down and get on. Then I left work at 3pm. And at 4pm, I got a call offering me an amazing job and can I start on Monday please? I said yes and hung up then called my other new job and quit.

And that was my week in the kitchen. I’ll say more about the new job later, suffice to say, it involves baking in a really old house.

A walk around the garden (part 1)

Ok everyone. Let’s take a walk around the garden. I’m pretty proud of what’s going on there at the moment and should be surrounded by things to eat soon. The idea is that we will go for another walk around the garden in a month or so when everything has grown a bit more.

Let’s start by the back door. Immediately to our right, we have the new cherry tree, which I am massively excited about…

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Then a bit further along is the new plum tree that we bought the day we came back from Italy, to soften the blow of no longer being in Italy.

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Following the fence on the right hand side of the garden, we have the strawberry plants…

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…and the tomato plants….

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Inbetween the tomato plants and the lawn, near the rosemary bush, is the lavender plant, bursting out of its pot…

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…then at the end of the lawn is the mystery tree our neighbour gave us. We did figure it out and now I’ve forgotten what it’s called.

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My photographs didn’t turn out very well for the fuschia, the marigolds, the trailing lobelia or the pansies so you will just have to trust me that they are there and when we take another walk around, I’ll show you them.

A cup of tea in the garden

Take your morning coffee out into the garden (Simon Gear, Going Greener)

I’ve been sitting on this one for a little while now, feeling like this was the next direction to go in with my Living Usefully project but not quite getting round to it.

As I drink tea, not coffee, I have adjusted it slightly but last night I decided that today was the day when I would take my tea into the garden. The weather has been nice all weekend and there have been some recent additions to the garden which I thought would make standing out there a lovely thing to do.

We recently got a cherry tree, a plum tree, a strawberry plant, tomato plants, a tall fuschia plant and a load of pansies and lobelia so there is a lot to look at in the garden right now. I was looking forward to my tea-in-the-garden plan.

Then I woke up, fifteen minutes ago. The birds were singing, the air felt warm and I pulled back the covers.

Then I looked out of the window. It was pouring with rain and everything looked soaked.

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So I pulled the covers over me again, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sorry, everyone. I’m sorry. I tried, sort of. I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe.

Vegetable chat

Pretext to this conversation = I have been foraging once. Once.

This is a conversation I had with some of the other volunteers yesterday at Ham House.

Volunteer 1: “Oo, this asparagus is huge! Is it from the kitchen garden?”

Me: “Yeh. The gardeners just brought it over. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

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Volunteer 2: “I don’t know how they’ve got it so soon either. The warm weather hasn’t been here long.”

Volunteer 1: “The cabbage in my vegetable patch has only just put in an appearance and my cherry tomatoes are yet to arrive.”

Volunteer 2: “Mine have only just started to grow and are still really small.”

Me: “I know what you mean. The long cold winter has meant hardly anything has grown.”

Volunteer 2: “Yeh.”

Me: “I mean, the best thing I’ve found has been nettles, because the winter doesn’t affect them.”

Volunteer 1: “Nettles?”

Me: *all knowledgeable* “Yehhhhh. They’re great. I make nettle soup with them or steam them and have them as a vegetable with my dinner.”

Volunteer 2: “That sounds interesting.”

Me: *super casual* “O, I’m always doing it. It’s so easy. I just come to the river with a glove and a tupperware box. I love it. I forage loads of stuff. Some people call me Madame Forager, actually.”

Volunteer 1: “O, right. What other stuff do you get?”

Me: *panic* “O, there’s loads of things about. Loads. Edible flowers… Sorrel…. Nettles….”

Volunteer 2: “Wow, that’s brilliant.”

Me: “It is, yeh. I love it.”

Showering and shopping

Yesterday, I was having a working-from-home day. There’s a lot to be said for staying at home in your jarmies to work. But I also had my instructions from Simon Gear to follow. He had asked two things from me in his book, Going Greener.

Eat fresh fruit in season to avoid the air miles, flying things across the globe so I can eat it all year round.

Shower rather than bath to save on water.

I adapted the first one slightly, given that I was looking for vegetables, not fruit. But the message was the same. Buy as locally as possible to avoid the air miles, one of the most environmentally-damaging things I probably take part in, on a day to day basis.

I decided that, actually, I would shop entirely British for eveything I needed for my planned cottage pie. So I approached the vegetable section. I needed tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and herbs.

Well, I almost gave up on the tomatoes and the herbs! All the tomatoes were from Portugal and Spain. After searching all through the different varieties, I found one variety of vine tomatoes that was grown in Britain. Phew! The cottage pie could make a start.

The herbs were from everywhere but Britain. Jordan, Egypt, Spain, Morocco, Mexico… Nothing. As I wandered off, I saw pots of herbs with little British flags printed on their labels! Hurrah! My cottage pie could have flavour! I got myself some thyme and some chives and suddenly, the world of reducing my air miles and shopping British smelled fabulous!

Next was potatoes and these weren’t hard to find. The carrots were also British, not too much trouble there.

I didn’t need mushrooms but in my excitement that so many of them were British, I got some anyway.

I learned, at this point, that lots of vegetables are from Israel. The other British ones I saw were chicory and lettuce, neither of which I needed but will keep in mind.

The beef mince was easy enough because the nice stuff in Waitrose happens to be British beef so no compromises needed there.

Getting cereal bars was fine because I know Jordans is a British company but a surprising amount were from America.

I wanted to pick up some tupperware to keep left over cottage pie in (another instruction from Simon Gear is to freeze down individual portions for emergencies then you never end up eating rubbish takeaway or bowls of icecream for dinner) but the tupperware was made in Vietnam so that was out.

I must say, it was a bit of a faff checking the small print on everything I bought but I felt sooo much better leaving the shop and knowing I’d made the effort to reduce my personal environmental impact. I also didn’t wrap my vegetables in plastic and I brought my own bags to pack my shopping in.

And now for the second challenge. This one, I knew, would be more of a mental hurdle than anything else, due to the simple fact that when it is cold and wintery, I like to have a hot bath and listen to an audiobook and pretend I am a lady of leisure.

As Simon rightly points out in his book however, when taking a bath, you use more than twice the water of a shower and, disgustingly, all the dirt that was on your feet ends up in your hair, and vice versa. Now I know this, of course I know it. But I like to pretend I don’t, due to the lady of leisure thing already mentioned.

Yesterday, despite the current cold snap and flurries of snow, I resolved to stop being a water-hog (one who hogs water, not a pig who lives in a river) and get a shower instead.

I put the plug in, to test the theory about how much less water it uses, turned it on hot and danced around a bit to some music to stay warm. After a few minutes, I could stop dancing and just enjoy it because it was quite nice actually. The cold from outside was like a test of strength. If I was tough enough to handle the cold, I could do anything!

At the end of my shower, which took 5 minutes instead of the requisite 30 for my lounging around bath sessions, the water was only just approaching my ankles. It was barely a tenth of what I use for a bath. I felt great, tinged with guilt for all the other times when I had bathed instead of showering.

And that was that! Two more boxes ticked on my quest to become more useful!

A day at Waltham Place (or: I want to live on a farm too!)

Yesterday, I had the most fabulous day out. Someone had got me an early birthday present, which was a place on a course about preserving fruit. The course was on a farm called Waltham Place just outside Maidenhead.

The journey there was quite eventful, after coming out of the station, seeing a bus already at the bus stop, leaping on and being what I can only describe as ‘adopted’ by two ladies on the bus. After I had asked if the bus went in the direction I needed, the ladies said it didn’t but I could get off near an airfield and take a short walk to get to the farm. I got out my purse to pay and the driver reminded me I needed the exact money. After scraping around among my change, the ladies almost got into a fight offering me the 20p that I was short of!

The journey to the farm then was smooth, after another man getting off at the same stop, pointed me down the right road. As I approached the main entrance, there didn’t seem to be any signs of where I should be…

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I was once again thrust on the mercy of the locals as I helplessly ran after a man I saw in the distance and asked where the course was being held. He pointed me up the road to the Ormandy Centre which, of course, I now remembered reading about in my notes before coming.

I found the centre eventually and was greeted by Adrian, the chef, and Nicki, his ‘gopher’ (her own words) and three of the other women on the course, for of course it was all women! The other women arrived and we started the day with chitchat, tea and biscuits.

Everything they gave us was made (and often grown too) on the farm. Adrian does all the cooking there. And that means everything. Absolutely everything. No help. He’s surprisingly calm and good-natured for a man who’s responsible for the feeding of a family and entire staff of such a big estate.

So our teas and coffees contained milk from the cows in the next door fields and the only non-farm ingredient in our macaroons and Viennese whirls was the sugar. The flour is milled on the farm, the milk from the cows is turned into cream, butter and cheese, and the eggs are harvested daily from the chickens who live in the next field to the cows. It was like taking a trip into the past, all the things we were offered to eat were homemade with produce from the surrounding fields. I started planning what my own small garden might be capable of and, so long as I don’t mind living on tomatoes, chillis and herbs, I could totally do this self-sufficient thing too. Maybe.

After tea and biscuits, we got stuck into a bit of teaching. Adrian gave us notes and talked us through the process of jam-making, the essential components and what does and doesn’t work. It wasn’t quite as ordered as that though. There were regular delightful tangents off into the obscure – long discussions about what goes into commercially produced jam, whether to keep one’s jam in the fridge, what fruits work and how long to keep jam for (a jar of Adrian’s, made in 1996, is still going strong today).

We were then given aprons and invited into the kitchen. We approached cautiously and told that this morning, the jam tasks were: raspberry jam, three fruit marmalade, lemon curd and blackcurrant jam.

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The other women piped up, excited about one of the other of the jams. They were paired up and given lemon curd, marmalade and raspberry jam. Finally there was just me and the blackcurrant, which Adrian said he’d help me with.

I was presented with a pot of blackcurrants which I went off to a corner with and put on a hob to heat.

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I heated my blackcurrants for quite a long time as they needed to reduce down by quite a lot before I could add the sugar. While the others were lemon zesting, butter melting or draining their fruit out….

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… I stood next to my blackcurrant pan and watched. I started to feel like the slow kid at the back of the class, still trying to work out times tables while the others progressed onto long division….

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It boiled for quite a while before Adrian gave me the ok to add the sugar and mash the blackcurrants a little bit. By the time I was pouring out my jam, even the slower lemon curd lot were long finished and on their second round of tea and biscuits. They do say, though, that good things come to those who wait, and my pot of blackcurrants yielded the most jars. Check out my harvest!

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We then stopped and had lunch, made by Adrian, of course. It was leek and potato soup and bread, fresh from the oven, spread with tasty yellow butter from the farm.

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After a long chat about recycling with the other ladies and me digging in to the bread, again and again, Nicki finally cleared away lunch, thank goodness, and Adrian talked us through different ways to preserve fruit.

So the afternoon tasks were ketchup, tomato chutney and bottled fruit. I ended up on the bottled fruit but had someone with me this time. We chopped and peeled the fruit and packed it into the jars to wait for our syrup, which was just a basic mixture of sugar and water. This we poured over the plums and rhubarbs. For the pears, though, we did white wine, sugar and cinnamon. Once all the fruit and syrups were in the jars, we put the lids on loosely and baked them on a very low heat for an hour.

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In this hour, we all donned wellies and coats for a walk around the farm. We saw the chickens who provide the eggs…

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…the cows who’s milk was in our tea….

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…and the gardens which are beautiful and colourful in summer…

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By the time we got back to the kitchen, our fruit was ready, the chutney was thick enough to go in jars and our day’s work was put on the table for admiring.

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By this time, there was nothing else to do but to have another round of tea, accompanied by two gorgeous homemade cakes (a tea brack and a Victoria sponge)….

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….and to chatter about what a brilliant day it had been and what other courses were they running and could we come on all of them please and how I wish I could become a lady of leisure and just spend all day homemaking everything I wanted to eat and not have any processed food in the house and o, if only! If only! Get thee behind me, Heinz, for I shall consume only homemade ketchup from this day forth!… Maybe… If I get the time to make some tomorrow after work… If I’m not busy practising piano and trying to become a world famous concert pianist.

A lovely Irish lady who was rushing off a little early to pick up her son from school had heard the story of my arrival and offered me a lift to the station. So all of sudden, in a bit of a rush, I was accepting her kind offer, grabbing my bag and running off. The journey home was fuss free and Danda looked very pleased when I arrived home with my crop from the day….

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We then spend an evening, nibbling some of each, especially the beautiful beautiful lemon curd, which is thick and spreadable and divine on bread.

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I honestly can’t think of anything about this day that I didn’t enjoy. If you are anywhere near Waltham Place Farm, I can fully recommend their day courses, for the experience itself, even if you’re not actually going to become the best jam maker the world has ever seen!