Green Is The Colour

If months were colours then May would definitely be green. There are little shoots and leaves appearing everywhere and I’m sure if you could stand still for long enough you would be able to see things growing. The hanging baskets have been planted ready for Summer and they’ve been left in a sheltered place until the risk of frost has passed.
I’ve had a bag of dahlias tubers from Sarah Raven sitting on my kitchen table for ages – I’m convinced that I get more excited with the contents of this package than those contained within a Tiffany’s box. The ridiculously dull little tubers have finally been planted and I’m already excited about them popping up next to the salad and vegetables and adding a burst of colour. I could easily turn into a dahlia addict……

May Planting

The pansies are still flowering well so I haven’t replaced them yet and I’m pleased to say that the Mr Fokker anemones are finally in bloom!

Unfortunately, the war on slugs and snails has begun (well in truth it’s more like a little scuffle at the moment). The hosta pots have now got a band of copper tape around the rim which will hopefully deter the slimy molluscs  from crossing it and helping themselves to an all day breakfast. I’ve also surrounded the chrysanthemums with crushed egg shells but this appears less successful as there are already holes in the tender leaves. I want to try the slug pubs and up turned grapefruits but in the meantime I would love to hear if you have any favourite natural solutions that would help? The chickens would have a feast but would probably do more damage than the slugs!

Slugs & Snails

The cats are also doing their best to help me with the gardening jobs. They love a spot of weeding (digging for no reason) and pest control (pouncing on anything that moves). It is lovely to have them outside in the garden with me and they love to show off, climb trees and race around the paddocks. They have been particularly entertained by the baby rabbits who are thankfully faster than they are! In the photo below Bella & Milo are absolutely transfixed on a rabbit on the other side of the window.
Isn’t it funny how the small things in life can make us happy? I’m so pleased that the French Tarragon has started to come through again this year – I expected the snow and frosts to have killed it so I’m really chuffed to see it again :-)

Stripey Cats & fields

The weather forecast remains poor – wind and rain for most of the weekend so garden plans are put on hold for now. Enjoy your weekend!

Rhubarb Memories

My love of rhubarb is a long lasting one. I have early memories of sitting on top of the rabbit hutch, legs dangling and dipping freshly cut rhubarb into a cup of sugar… I wear these sweet and sour  memories like a rhubarb coloured coat that feels really cosy.
The two bunches of rhubarb below were picked at the same time – one from the forced plant and one from the traditional patch. Rhubarb is easy to harvest as all you have to do is pull and twist the stalk at the base and it will neatly come away. From the photos you can see that the forced rhubarb has much smaller leaves but the stems are cleaner and more colourful being a beautiful pinky/red.

Compare The Rhubarb

I washed the rhubarb well, mouth watering and chopped it into bite size pieces and the taste test was completed when the rhubarb was raw. And the results? Well, the forced rhubarb was noticeably sweeter and had more of the rhubarb tang to it so I’d definitely recommend forcing it if you can.
There’s so many things you can do with rhubarb – crumble, pie, cobbler, fools and cakes to mention a few. It is also good with strawberries to sweeten it and even with mackerel (although I have never tried this combo!). Rhubarb and custard are delightful together but I had a hankering for Rhubarb ice-cream. The recipe below is really simple, there’s no churning involved and I ate a quarter of the tub before remembering to take a photograph.

Honey Roasted Rhubarb Icecream
Bear with me – I threw this together so feel free to experiment.

1 carton of whipping cream
1/3 cup of icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups of chopped rhubarb
Enough honey to drizzle

Spread the freshly cut rhubarb onto a non stick sheet and drizzle in honey. Slow roast for 20 mins or so under soft and bubbling slightly. In the meantime whisk the cream into soft peaks (not too much) and stir in the sifted icing sugar (to suit taste). Once the roasted rhubarb has cooled fold in this gently into the cream mixture, pour into a suitable container and then into the freezer for a couple of hours. I like the rippled effect but if your mix it more thoroughly you’ll get a lovely pink coloured ice-cream!

Rhubarb Icecream

Rhubarb Cake

This was a Pinterest recipe treasure I found for Grandma’s Rhubarb Cake at Dulce Dough:

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
  • 1 1/2 cups raw rhubarb, cut small

Topping:
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 325°F  2. Prepare 9×13 or 8×12 pan by spraying with cooking spray  3. Cream butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl  4. Add eggs and vanilla and stir  5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt  6. Alternately stir in the buttermilk and the flour mixture into the other ingredients  7. Fold in rhubarb  8. Pour into prepared pan  9. Combine sugar and cinnamon for topping and sprinkle on top of cake  10. Bake in 9×13 or 8×12 pan at 325°F for 40 minutes.
Prep time: 15 minsCook time: 40 mins. Total time: 55 mins. Yield: 1 cake

Rhubarb Cake

The cake had the texture of carrot cake (rhubarb is a veg I suppose) and was especially nice on Day 2. It is really delicious warmed slightly and served with a portion of the rhubarb ice-cream… but that might be one stalk too far for all but the seasoned rhubarb muncher!!

For More Rhubarb Ideas Visit My Pinterest Site  (no need to knock, just come on in!)

Green Things

Kitchen Garden April 13

The herb border is looking rather ragged and this isn’t helped by the cats rolling around it but generally things are looking greener. Bella smells particularly fragrant at times (rather like Thyme) so I know where she’s been and when I’m out there both kitties love to roll around in the soil. It’s so good to be outside again and it’s lovely to see the currants and gooseberry in leaf – I hope to get a reasonable crop this year before the birds have a feast. I’m growing potatoes for the first time and using a black tub with drainage holes in the bottom. I’ve since covered this tub over with bubble wrap as I fear it looks remarkably like a cat litter tray!

Fairy House for Sale

The fairy garden is filling out nicely and is starting to be dwarfed by the squash, aubergine and chilli seedlings. There’s no occupants at the moment probably because of the two, furry creatures that zoom around at a hundred miles an hour before collapsing outside for a rest….

Cats In Kitchen Garden

Spring Brights

Spring FlowersMy poor little plastic greenhouse didn’t survive the high winds and neither did the pots and trays of seedlings. I’m not too disheartened though as the remains of the greenhouse was found next to my car and luckily there was no damage to the paint work! I’ve scooped up the soil and battered seedlings (RIP) and decided to wait a couple of weeks and plant directly as I can’t risk growing more seeds indoors (crious cats) and the greenhouse is now modern art.

Forced Rhubarb

I uncovered the rhubarb that has been forced (don’t think me too cruel) and was amazed at the beautiful colours of the leaves and stems. The rhubarb plant to the rear in the photo above is the same variety – this has been left to grow normally so I’m going to do a taste test at the weekend to see if the forced rhubarb is really sweeter… or just grateful to see daylight at long last!

Snow Scones

There’s nothing nicer than watching the seasons change and relishing those foods that are oh-so-soon-gone. After a poor, rainy Summer the Winter seems to have gone on forever so I was eagerly anticipating Spring. Unfortunately Mother Nature has decided to delay Spring for a while longer. Instead of cold, sunny days and daffodils we now have 6 inches of snow and biting winds. What the heck, if Mother Nature can be contrary then so can I… Summer fruit scones and homemade strawberry jam for afternoon tea!

Fruit Scones and Jam

Scone Recipe
350g self-raising flour, plus more for dusting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
85g butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp caster sugar
75g sultanas
175ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
squeeze lemon juice
beaten egg, to glaze

These are so simple to make! Mix the flour, salt and baking powder together and then add the butter, rubbing between fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the caster sugar and sultanas then combine well into the crumb mixture. In a jug combine the milk, vanilla extract and a squeeze of lemon. Don’t mokey around once you add the liquid to the dry ingredients – the secret to a light scone is to handle the mixture as little as possible. Gently roll the dough on a floured surface and cut out the scones out with a small cutter. Glaze with a beaten egg and put the scones on a baking tray into the oven at 220c for approx 10mins.
These are best served slightly warm from the oven with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. As a Summer treat they are great but as an antidote to a snowy Spring day with a nice cup of Assam tea they are amazing!

Fruit Scones

Snow has a particular beauty. A beauty that is perfect for a dark January day when the fires rarely go out and mittens are stuffed into pockets. This beauty doesn’t extend to March however when the birds want to build nests, the hares want to box and the plants want to grow. Mittens should be safely tucked away again… so safe in fact that they can’t be found again in Winter!
The chickens seem very confused (and this wasn’t helped when I gave them a little taste of fruit scone in what they consider the depths of Winter!).

Snow in MarchAs for the kittens; they refused to go outside this weekend. I can’t blame them. They stared out the open front door for a few seconds, sniffed the snow and then ran back indoors. Milo did step outside once and very quickly leapt back inside when the cold stuff hit his paws.

Warm Inside

I look forward to the snow thawing as I’m pretty sure Milo only went outside to bury his collar. You see, Bella has taken to her collar really well and parades around as if she’s wearing a diamond necklace. Milo unfortunately has worked out how to get his safety collar off and hide it from us. This hide and seek game was quite endearing… only this time we can’t find it!

Freedom

Brrrrrr. It remains cold out there so there’s not a lot of change to see in the garden. However, the days are certainly getting lighter and the Spring flowers are starting to put on a show. The wind has damaged quite a few plants and the covers keep blowing off but it has simply taught me to choose hardier plants this year.

March Garden

The kittens are now 6 months old and this weekend they went outside for the first time. They have bells on their collars to give the birds fair warning that they’re around and after much encouragement they slowly made their way to the Kitchen Garden. Milo may be the bigger cat but he’s a scaredy cat! I haven’t got any clear photos of him as he kept close to the hedge line and darted everywhere – the best I could manage was the wet paw prints he left behind. He loved playing on the walls and was particularly interested in the hessian covering the asparagus. Bella who is not so reserved, happily climbed, sniffed and explored. The fur on her side is growing back now – they’ve both recovered really well (in fact it was me who was traumatised!).

Bella outside

We’ve not introduced them to the cat flap yet as I want them to get used to being outside first. We have four days off work at Easter in so it will probably happen then when we can give them lots of time and attention.

Tired Cats

I’ve sown the first seeds at last – carrots, beetroot, chard, kale, broad beans and spinach all directly in the beds. Others such as tomatoes, aubergine, squash, sweetcorn and chillies have been brought indoors where they can get a cosier start. The only problem is where to keep the plant pots as the cats love soil and plants and the utility room is now their bedroom. I decided to put them on top of the oak beams in the garden room… I just hope they don’t fall on anyone’s head!

March Garden

 

Early March

The days are noticeably longer and there is a whiff of Spring in the air. When I went outside this afternoon my mind was set on scratching about a bit but, in all honesty, there wasn’t that much to do. I pulled up a few weeds, did a spot of sweeping and then spent the rest of the time wandering around having a good look at the plants waking up from their sleep. Unfortunately, all the weeds are waking up from their sleep too so I’m currently trying to stay ahead of the game.
The sun was out for a few hours this morning and I once again had to restrain myself from sowing seeds – it’s still too cold and we don’t have  a greenhouse yet! The seed box is laughing at me but I won’t play it’s games ;-)

Kitties

The kitties are growing so fast… they’re being neutered tomorrow and I already feel anxious. I know that it’s the responsible thing to do but it doesn’t stop me fretting about them. I just have to keep focused on them being able to go outside, chase rabbits and fall sleep in the Kitchen Garden. It will be lovely to hear the cat flap swinging to and fro again… I just need to get some collars with bells on to give the birds fair warning.

Shoots and Teacups

The garlic has started to peek through but if you watch very carefully  you can almost see the shoots trying to hide from the freezing blasts of wind that have now come to torment us. Last year I used the Utility Room as a greenhouse with good success… but the Utility Room is now the Kitten’s Bedroom and as much as they’d love to have soil and seedlings to play with I’ll have to be more creative with space this year.

The “Nicola” seed potatoes from Sarah Raven arrived in the week so I’ve started to chit them in an old egg tray. I smiled when I notice that one was  heart shaped  as hearts are dotted all the way around our home and it seemed a good sign for the growing year  yet to come.

Garlic and Spuds

I’m quite excited because I’ve made some really tasty bread and it was soooo easy to do that it feels like I’ve missed the point! It’s from a book called Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes which shares the secret of a no knead method of bread making. I followed the most basic recipe and I’m hoping it’s not just a bit of a fluke but it was lovely – I’ll keep baking and let you know. Do you use this method of bread making, and if so, is it successful for you? I’m going to be a bit more adventurous with the recipe next weekend.

Crusty Bread

I seem to have acquired a new obsession – vintage teacups! I’ve decided to hold a small afternoon tea party in early Summer and this has given me the perfect excuse to collect them. I’ll be going full out – home made fancies, crustless sandwiches, scones and gorgeous little cups of tea. They’ll  be bunting, flowers and lots of vintage loveliness and weather permitting we may even be able to sit outside (okay, I’ll stop it now, I’m just getting carried away!).

Teacups

My Thinking Place

The lid of the seed box barely contained the multitude of packets inside and I had a familiar feeling when I peeked in… you know that feeling when you finally open the Christmas decorations box? You’ve not seen these things for a few months and yet instantly know the magic is about to begin! This time last year I didn’t even have a seed collection which just shows you how far (or obsessed) I’ve come in a year!
I’ve spent quite a lot of time over Winter looking through various seed catalogues but before ordering any more seeds I promised myself that I’d sort out the packets of seeds from last year.

Seed Sorting

1. The seed packets were spread over the table and I discarded any empty packets and those well past their expiry dates. I managed to spill some delphinium seeds so if these start to sprout up from between the tiles at least I’ll know they’re not weeds!
2. They were then sorted into vegetables and flowers and packed away by grouping them into beds. If I was properly organised I’d file them in order of sowing but in truth I like shuffling seeds like a deck of cards and rummaging through them.
3. The lid was so much easier to put on… but I’m sure this won’t be the case when the new seeds arrive!
4. Mmm…. don’t kitten’s have the sharpest little teeth?
5. I highly recommend Mark Diocono’s book “Veg Patch: River Cottage Book 4″. I used this to help me plan what veg to grow this year. The rough plan is as follows:

Kitchen Garden Plans

There are a disproportionate amount of sofas in this house… especially when you consider how much time we actually sit on them. A really nice place to relax is on the chaise longue in the garden room. Feet up, a good book, mellow music and furry friends….. purrfect (well it was until I noticed my bum print on the seat!!). The only problem with a thinking  place is that it provides opportunity to change one’s mind so the 2013 Kitchen Garden plan has already been altered!

Winter Kittens

The view out of the window (as seen from the chaise) was taken a few days ago after another day of snow but it’s all green again now and the sun was out today… it must be very confusing for the wildlife. I managed to spend a few hours in the garden today, tidying the beds and smiling to myself. Spring is nearer than ever.

IMG_4548

Where’s your thinking place?

February Blahs

February is my least favourite month. It has the fewest days compared to other months but somehow seems to drag on and on. Even when February seems to be trotting along quite nicely… bam! an extra pesky day sneaks in. Admittedly, this extra day only occurs once every four years but (come on!!!) couldn’t it happen during Summer when an extra day would be nice?!!
Maybe my aversion to February is because I hate having to wait for Spring… I have a whole list of things I can do in March but February delights in taking it’s sweet time :-). Am I the only one to have an unexplained aversion to a month? Surely not, but I confess that I also dislike Tuesdays (but that is less logical than the February saga)!

Feb View
The snow has finally gone, and although we’re expecting more during the week, it was lovely to be able to enjoy the green fields through the Garden Room windows again. It’s great to watch the storms roll over and try and guess what time the rain will arrive.
In the Garden Room, high up in the rafters, is a little carved wooden snail called Brian who looks down on us as we pass by. He moves extremely slowly so he’s usually not a problem to catch and dust.

Brian

Whilst I was wobbling on tiptoes with a duster in hand, I happened to glance across at the windows. The sun was shining through the glass and shaming me into wanting to clean the windows but for once I wasn’t too concerned because there was, quite obviously, a leftover Christmas sign!!
Eek! The question is – do I leave it up for the rest of the year (it has taken me until February to notice it!) or take it down and hide it in the rubbish drawer?

The One That Got Away