Monday 14 January 2013

Allotment in winter

I made my first trip for ages to the allotment on Sunday (the allotment, aka lottie, has, like everything else in my life, been somewhat neglected of late - I blame the builders!)  I swear there's some sort of witchcraft going on there - it's the most Zen place in the entire universe - I can feel myself relax the second I walk through the gates.  My trusty assistant was with me, helpfully available to lean on me every time I tried to take a photo or to tell me, with a look of desperation in her eyes, as I tried to hold her, naked bottom pointing to the ground, legs in the air, that she didn't, in fact, only need a wee...
'What's this, mummy?  What's this?' 'Why, that's perpetual spinach, darling' (pause for proud moment - yes, I can identify that mystery green leaf, even though I haven't been here for an eternity)
I was absolutely amazed at how much is still growing away there:
I think this is broccoli of some sort. Or it could be a cabbage.  I'm not so proud of myself now.  It's definitely a brassica of some sort
('Look at may waife's brassicas'... Name that film.  Extra points for this one, it's tricky)
Okay, this one's another brassica.  Cavolo nero?  Anyone?
I know this one!  Yay.  This is definitely blackcurrants.
Right, this isn't a brassica and it isn't a currant, I can say that with certainty.  It's a leek.  Or it may be garlic.  It's oniony, whatever.
And obviously the trusty old rhubarb is sprouting away already:
Crikey, we still haven't eaten our way through all of last year's rhubarb crop - I'd better get on with it or we'll be disappearing under some sort of pink-stalked mountain.  
Crumble, anyone? x
PS - thank you, you lovely lot, for your comments on my last post - it's so great to know you're all still out there - I really do appreciate your words and have been quietly reading all your blogs in my absence, even though I'm not always very good at commenting x

Monday 7 January 2013

Smile post #1

I love the idea of '52 weeks of happy' that I have seen in blogland recently - there's a lot to be said for appreciating the small things in your every day life, but embarking on something that requires you to do at least one post a week is a big commitment for a flake like me, so here is my own version of it - my very first ever smile post.  And the first thing that's been making me smile lately?  Why, I introduce to you my new favourite thing: my wood-burning stove...ta dah!!!!  Isn't it just the cosiest thing you've ever seen?  This was installed in September and has been on almost every night since then (even when, frankly, we haven't needed it - but better to be sitting on the sofa, fire blazing, sweating in my swimming costume, than sitting on the sofa fully clothed with no fire on, I say).  I wasn't being entirely accurate there, btw, my cossie almost never sees the light of day.  I love this fire more than almost everything else in the entire world, despite the fact that the fitters had to take a jackhammer to my sitting room wall to get the lining up the chimney (cue knock on door and next-door-neighbour saying in a quavering voice 'uuuuhmmm, is this going to take long?  Only, everything's falling off my sitting room wall...')  Ooops.
Smile no two: cutie-pie cousins playing with stickers (Hello Kitty, if you're interested - small was thrilled when she opened that parcel, I can tell you!)  Spot the boy with the new astros - yaaaawnnn - what is it with boys and trainers?  Seemingly, they never grow out of it either, Mr N gets very excited when the boys tell him they've grown out of their old ones - it seems that trainer shopping is a blue job, whereas school uniform shopping is most definitely a pink job, which just smacks of double standards to me...
Smile three?  Beautiful nature, even on the dullest, grey day.
And there you have it - my first post for an eternity.  I'm nervous in case you've all, understandably, deserted me and instead of comments, I get tumbleweed at the bottom of my post.  I do have an entirely justifiable reason for my absence, which I will go into at a later date, but let's just say that we've had 'a bit of work' done on the house and by the end of it I had only a tenuous grip on my sanity.  It was a pretty hairy period, with the notable low point coming when I started sobbing so hysterically that I gave myself a nosebleed in front of the decorator who, credit where credit's due, didn't edge nervously towards the door but instead rolled up my blood-soaked sleeves, handed me copious amounts of loo roll to mop myself up, asked me about twenty times if I 'wanted a brew' and told me that 'we all need to have a good cry every now and then'.  
Me: humiliated; him: sh*tting himself. x

Sunday 15 July 2012

All star blanket ta-dah!

I've given up waiting for the sun (this weekend has been notable in that we have had 'only a very little bit' of rain) and so I've taken some gloomy photos of my latest make, so that I can legitimately get cracking with the next one.  Is it normal to feel that I can't start my next blanket (for it has to be a blanket - I do love them so) until I've blogged about my last one?  That the project isn't really done until it's been posted? it all star blanket.  Ta-dah!!!!!
Can you see the slightly serrated effect along the edge where the grey colour joins on to the cream?  I really love this stitch, which I think is called saw stitch.  It's made by doing a double crochet, chain one, miss next stitch, double crochet, chain one, miss next stitch, double crochet...etc and I think I'm going to use it for my next blanket.  I'm picturing lovely irregular width stripes in creams and greens and pinks, and I'm picturing me tucked up underneath it on my comfy, comfy new sofa, crochet hook in hand, glass of wine nearby...
But back to the blanket in hand:
I first saw the design on Pinterest and loved it so much that I bought the book - Crocheted Gifts: Irresistible Projects To Make And Give by Kim Werker - I have to point out here that I'd debate the validity of the word 'irresistible'; this is probably the only thing I'll make from this book - but for me it was worth buying it for this pattern alone as I just love it so much.  It's written in American terms and so I found it easier to translate it first - I get in a right old muddle when things are written in American, my poor old brain can't cope - and as it turns out, I nearly couldn't cope with this pattern even when it was written in English!  The first star-in-a-circle-in-a-square took me about an hour of head scratching and frogging and muttering under my breath, but I'm pleased to report that I could knock them up pretty quickly once I'd got the hang of them.
I used Rico Creative Cotton, which I bought from here, and I needed: two balls of each of the two star colours; four balls of the light blue circle colour; sixteen balls of the main cream colour; and one ball of the grey edge colour.  The finished blanket is about the same size as the top of a single bed (excluding the bit where the pillow goes) and middle absolutely loves it.  He loves it so much, in fact, that it travels around the house with him - he even has his breakfast wrapped up in it (yes, it really is that cold in July...) and that makes it extra lovely for me.
And as if all that crocheting wasn't enough to satisfy my urge to make things, I had a very busy two hours at the allotment this morning harvesting a tonne of rhubarb, some strawberries, sweet peas, marigolds and a mountain of blackcurrants. My afternoon was spent turning this:
...into lovely jars of blackcurrant jam.  Oh, in fact, if I listen very carefully, I think I can hear my toaster calling me.  Yep, it definitely wants some attention and, frankly, I am powerless to resist the lure of a slice of toast with loads of butter and a thick layer of this yummy jam.  Soz, gotta dash... x

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Muddy strawberries and little pots of lovely

My small attempt to bring a little bit of summer to my soggy neck of the woods...
...and proof that, despite all the rain, some things are managing to survive in my allotment:
(ha ha - look - it's actually sunny in this photo.  That was in the bright spell we had from 4.00 - 4.15 a week ago yesterday.)
I love these little jugs of flowers that are gently shedding their petals all over my house, they cheer me up a bit when all I really want to do is hide my head under a duvet and sob 'where, oh where is the sun???'
Strawberries help a bit too, especially when they're served with a vast mound of cream with icing sugar and vanilla.  These babies, however, were presented with a side serving of mud, courtesy of small, who mistook the trug for a bucket and helpfully emptied a trowelful of earth into it:
They actually tasted amazing once I'd thoroughly washed them and cut the wildlife out of them.
And here's a peek at something else that's been making me smile when I see it:'s not middle's drunken-looking teddy (ah, he does love that bear - aka 'smelly ted' - he's lost almost all his stuffing, has more repairs round his bottom than actual fabric, and stinks like something you might find if you were to have a rummage around at the bottom of a wheelie bin, but he's as much a member of the family as middle himself).  
Can you see what's just behind the much-repaired bear's bum?  Eeeeeeee - it's an in-use all star blanket!!! More on that when we get our next five-minute sunny slot so I can take some photos. x
PS - Just to say that I'm sorry I've been so rubbish at commenting on blogs lately - I can't leave comments from my phone (which is how I read a lot of blogs), trying to comment from mr n's ipad makes me want to weep with frustration, and the laptop usually has a small boy attached to it.  I do read all your lovely blogs and I am constantly inspired by what I see and read, so thank you x

Sunday 24 June 2012

oooops (or: granny ripple blanket ta-dah)

Well hello peeps - I'm ba-ack!  It was touch and go for a while there - I wasn't sure I'd survive the demands of the enormous piles of washing/mounds of dirty dishes/hordes of fighting children/days at work - but I did.  Phew.  Now, does anyone know why it is that all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, life can just go up a notch in the crazy stakes?  There hasn't been any big event or occurrence to have caused the unusual levels of busy-ness that I've been experiencing lately, but crikey - life really has been crackers.  Anyhoo, I'm aiming to just get through this next week (am working five days - oh em gee - I know I used to do that all the time, but that was in the days before I had three small people to coordinate too) and then I'm hoping life will just slow down a touch.  Please...
The few weeks since my last post have seen the following things happen:
middle has lost a tooth (don't underestimate the importance of this event in the life of a six-year-old!)
big has been on his first ever overnight trip with school - I didn't cry *proud of self*
small has made the jump into big girl pants full time (though I'm now thinking that I'm not sure which is worse - changing nappies or endlessly traipsing potties full of poo to the toilet for disposal...)
we have decided, after spending months teetering on the fence of indecision, that we are not going to move house and we are, instead, going to extend (oh yes, excitement in my neck of the woods is reaching almost unbearable levels).  Expect to be bored with updates on a regular basis...  Edit: yes, Fee, full commitment is required now!
we've seen the Olympic torch (note to self: next time I think 'oh, it's so early on a Sunday morning, it'll be very crowded, I won't bother having a shower or brushing my teeth until we get home again, we'll never see anyone we know'.  Think again...  And of the four people we saw that we knew, one is a news reader on our local BBC news and therefore doesn't even get out of bed without a full face of make-up and a pair of shades on...)
I've redecorated the boys' bedroom - floor to ceiling - spanking new wall colour (Farrow and Ball 'borrowed light', if you're interested) new light shade, new curtains, new bedding - the works.  I nearly killed myself twice - once when moving their bunk beds from one side of the room to the other (I just about burst everything in my entire body shifting that beast) - and the other time when their solid wood wardrobe nearly toppled over and flattened me (Mr N would have been a bit surprised to come home to find only hands and feet sticking out from underneath the wardrobe - a la wicked witch of the west.)
we have invented a rather thrilling new game (I say 'invented' - you'll probably say 'pah - my family's been playing this tired old game for literally ever' when I tell you what it is - but for the moment, we are thrilled at our originality).  The game starts with one member of the family saying a category - eg dogs - then everyone has to decide what dog they would be if they were, indeed, of the canine persuasion.  (Without a doubt, we are: Afghan; Westie, whippet, labrador, border terrier).  The game is more 'hilarious' if you decide as a group what one member of the family would be - 'you'd be a bloodhound'.  'Ha ha!'  'Nooooo - that's not fair, I haven't got droopy eyes, you idiot.  Anyway, you'd be a greyhound, you skinny dork'.  'No I wouldn't - I'd be a border collie'.  'You wouldn't - everyone loves border collies - nobody loves you...' etc etc ad nauseum.
Hours of fun, I tell you...
On the crochet front, I've been a busy old bee, but for the moment I'm just going to show you this:
My lovely friend had her baby and so the blanket was duly edged in navy and sent off to keep him (Bertie) warm and cosy (and I bet he's had a lot of use from it in this cruddy weather we've been having lately).  Ooh, that reminds me - something else that's had a lot of use lately is my new wellies - thank you all for your suggestions for resolving my wellie crisis - I am now the proud owner of a lovely pair of black Hunters with a gusset.  Gussets - the best friend of ladies with walkers' calves (and ladies with bladder problems too, I should think, but that's a whole other gusset issue altogether...) x

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Rhubarb and vanilla jam

...parpa parp parp parp paaaaarp...
(Small fanfare in honour of me having reached my hundredth post please).
As promised in my last post, here is the absolute best ever recipe for rhubarb and vanilla jam (the original recipe can be found here - I doubled the quantities, because I'm a pig.)

2kg rhubarb, cut into 3cm chunks
2kg jam sugar
juice of two lemons
two vanilla pods, split lengthways
1) Put a small plate in the freezer.  Put the rhubarb in a preserving pan with the vanilla pods and sugar.  Heat gently, until all the sugar has all dissolved.  Squeeze in the lemon juice and increase the heat.
2) Boil for about ten minutes, skimming off the scum as it appears on the surface.  Test for the setting point by putting a small blob of jam onto the cooled plate, leave for a few seconds, then push gently with your finger - if it wrinkles, it's ready.
3) Once it's ready, remove the vanilla pods and ladle into warmed, sterilised jars.
This makes about seven standard jars worth of jam.

I humbly recommend two things here:
1) make this with homegrown rhubarb if you possibly can - it tastes a million times better than the stuff you buy in the shops (smug allotment-holder that I am)
2) don't make this if you're dieting - it's highly addictive.  Mr N thinks this is the best jam he's ever tasted - and he doesn't even like rhubarb.  Don't say you haven't been warned. x
PS - Nicki, get your extra-long spoon at the ready...!

Monday 7 May 2012

Allotment update

What do you think of Lulu?  I think she's just a little bit great - Small is convinced that she's a fairy.  She sits and keeps watch over the big concrete raised beds at the entrance to the allotments and I love the fact that since I last visited the allotment, someone has been in and given her a full makeover.  She's got her summer frock on, clearly.
My allotment partner, Mrs Hen, and I managed to get a rare couple of hours together at the plot on Sunday, which was great.  It had been a while since I'd been able to get down there and not only was I feeling guilty, but I was slightly worried that the entire area may have been over-run by rhubarb (it's a good job I love the stuff - it's positively rampant!)  I have actually found the most amazing recipe for rhubarb and vanilla jam, which I'm planning to share with you in my next (and, coincidentally, my hundredth) post.  Get your jam pans at the ready gals, it's a winner!
I thought I'd share some photos of what's appearing on our patch with you, to prove that, against all the odds, things are indeed growing:
Comfrey, which is an excellent green manure.
Fennel, which is delicious with fish.
Redcurrants - mmmm, puddings...
And peas (ugh, revolting little balls of green) - the best thing about these is that they are grown up twiggy peasticks.  Was there ever a better name for a piece of gardening paraphernalia?
We also have blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries in the fruit section - and cabbages, broccoli, potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, beetroot, chard, runner beans and borlotti beans in the veggie section.  Obviously we've had to plant some flowers too, so we've got sweetpeas, marigolds, nasturtiums and calendula.  If any of this actually makes it on to my plate, I will not only be extremely proud, I will be more than a little amazed.  I am a rank amateur when it comes to gardening - my ineptitude is matched only by my enthusiasm (I cling to the thought that Mrs Hen knows what she's doing, or at the very least that she has a book that will tell us what to do).  The man who has the plot at the bottom of ours clearly recognises this as he saunters casually up to us every time he sees us and then proceeds to tell us what we've done wrong since he last saw us.  He then tells us how we should be doing it and how it won't work unless we follow his advice to the letter.  Mrs Hen is cracking, I definitely heard her muttering about the possibility of there being a body under her patio very soon.
And then, in an amazing spurt of outdoorsy eagerness, I actually cycled to the allotment today (pause for proud swelling of chest and slight wince at sore bum).  My 'to do list' went something like this:
drop off tall canes for beans
water cabbages
dig over bean bed ready for planting
spread wee all over shed floor (note to self: check for holes in plastic bag really thoroughly before relieving oneself in said bag and especially don't open shed door to dump bag of wee on ground while your trousers are still round your knees.) x
PS - to those of you who may be thinking that weeing in your shed is odd and wrong, I ask this question: 'why else would there already have been a latch on the inside of the shed door?'  Hey??