Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Carrot wars and rainbows

I'm growing two types of carrot in the veg plot at the moment. I bought the seeds a few years ago to sow in pots, therefore I picked varieties that I could harvest as baby carrots.

Not knowing then of course that you can use any type of carrot as baby carrots, you just pull them up before they're fully grown. Ah well, I'm better informed now. Still with our clay soil it's a good idea to stick to the shorter ones anyway.

So I grabbed some of each for dinner today, to do a taste comparison. Boiled for just a couple of minutes, then served with a little butter and parsley.

In the blue corner... Parmex. In my stupidity I didn't get a pic of these guys, so here's one from Thompson&Morgan instead. They can afford the bandwidth.

Designed to be very stumpy and ball-shaped. Mine are slightly more traditional-carrot-shaped than that (although the smaller ones are pretty round), maybe an inch in diameter and a little bit longer than that with a pointy end.

And in the red corner, the catchily-named Amsterdam Forcing 3-Sprint. Looks basically like a normal carrot. I did get a pic a few days ago.

The Parmex pic makes them look really dull (since it's obviously photoshopped), but they are a lovely orange colour, with a great perfumed carrot smell when you pull them up.

My prediction before the trial was that Amsterdam Forcing would taste better, based on the intensity of fragrance.

Michael had no such preconceptions, but we both agreed on our favourite... sure enough, the Amsterdam. Tastes sweeter and more "carroty", and the texture is better too, firmer. We have a winner!

* * *

Thinking about carrots made me remember that you can get purple carrots*, and I thought I'd have a look for some kind of mixed pack of seeds of different colours. I was disappointed. All I could find was mixtures with orange, yellow and white. Almost all were F1 hybrids (bah).

So instead I bought separate packets of red, purple, yellow and white from eBay, at a total cost of about £4.50. I'm intending to mix them with the Amsterdam Forcing I already have and sow them all together to create my own rainbow carrot mix. I'll happily swap some of them if anyone's interested.

And completely randomly, here's a dish I prepared a few days ago using garden veg. It's a stir-fry with chicken, noodles, purple kale, spinach, chard, rapini and mangetout peas. Wasn't bad at all.

*Carrots also come in yellow, white, purple and as I discovered today, red! How pretty!!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nothing very exciting

Yesterday was very windy, and some emergency plant support measures became necessary. Luckily there was only one casualty, a courgette plant that got decapitated when the stake it was tied to blew over. Peas and potatoes and sunflowers got battered about a bit, but they'll survive.

Today the new little purple-podded pea and pole bean plants got planted out, in containers because there's literally no room in the raised beds. One of the containers is an old plastic storage box with holes in the bottom. (Gotta love recycling!)

After deciding that liqueur making sounded fun, I raided the 'net for recipes and started off 4 different liqueurs - lemon, lavender, kiwi and lemon cream. Some more will happen as soon as I buy more vodka. It really is easy, just soak fruit in vodka for however long, add sugar syrup and strain and bottle and keep for a while, then drink. The lemon cream is very quick - it's in the freezer right now and it's really good - I found the recipe here.

Next step is to start making wine again too. I've started off some ginger beer. No, it's really not all Famous Five, this is serious stuff at about 5% alcohol (10% proof). If Julian, Dick (snigger), George, Anne and Timmy had been on this ginger beer I think the books might have been a little different... something like Five go to Al-Anon or Five wait for 7 hours in A&E after some drunken snooping goes horrible wrong. Or something.

Here's what I've harvested from the garden so far...

* Salad leaves
* Mangetout peas (just a handful today)
* Carrots (finger sized baby ones, because they needed thinning, plus baby carrots = so good)
* Oriental veg mix (eaten in a stir fry today)
* Spinach/leaf beet/chard

Potatoes and dwarf beans are in flower, and tiny courgettes, pumpkins, cucumbers and French beans are appearing. Also the tomatoes have buds.

I'm tired and need to sleep.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On yumminess

So I couldn't resist picking and eating one of the yellow pea pods the other day. It was probably half sized, not even the size of a mangetout, but I was too curious.

Straight off the plant and into my mouth.

You know what, I never knew peas were so yummy!

I've had so-called "fresh" unshelled peas from the supermarket and they were good, but this was something else.

Crunchy and quite sweet with a lovely sort of resistance when you bit it and a flavour which frozen or tinned (yuk!) peas can't even hope retain. Of course it tasted like peas, but it also tasted a lot like raw skinless peanuts, for some reason. Delicious. Can't wait to be able to pick a proper batch to stir-fry, but I have a feeling they might just end up raw in a salad, they're that good.

In completely unrelated news, I really fancy making liqueurs this year, with fruits and flowers spices and such. Looks easy and fun, and tasty.

Yesterday I had a go at making elderflower cordial (that's a non-alcoholic drink for you Americans, which we dilute with water), since I have 3 or 4 elders in the hedges around my garden. It's steeping in the kitchen. Tonight I'll strain and bottle it - hopefully it will be really good and I'll have to make loads more. I've done lavender before, but never elderflower.

I can see myself at the end of the year with a kitchen full of jams and jellies and chutneys and sauces and cordials and liqueurs... anyone fancy saving jars and bottles for me? I'll swap them for finished products!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


First pea pod emerges. :)

And yes, it's supposed to be yellow.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Feta and tomato pasta plus

Bout time I posted a recipe.

The title doesn't really say it, but I can't think of something more imaginative or descriptive. I used chicken but it would be equally nice without it (or with Quorn or whatever) if you fancied a veggie version.

Anyway, this serves 2.

1 chicken breast (optional), skinless and boneless, cut into small pieces.
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper (or whatever colour you like), in 1cm squares
1/2 courgette, in 1cm cubes
8 sun-dried or semi-dried tomatoes in olive oil, cut into small pieces
1 or 2 medium tomatoes, cubed
2 or 3 good handfuls of fresh young chard leaves or spinach, torn in half
75g feta cheese, broken into pieces
2 tbsp fresh oregano or marjoram leaves, or 2 tsp of dried (use other herbs if you like - mint, thyme, parsley or basil would all be good)
10 black olives, halved
150g dried pasta (I use a chunky sort of pasta rather than spaghetti or tagliatelle, but use what every you like)

1) Put the pasta on to boil, according to packet instructions.

2) Heat 1 tbsp of oil from the sun-dried tomatoes in a medium saucepan or frying pan and fry the chicken pieces (if using) with the garlic until mostly cooked. For the veggie version, fry the garlic for a minute then move to step 3.

3) Add the pepper, courgette and sun-dried tomatoes and fry until the veg is slightly softened and the chicken is golden. Add the fresh tomato and continue to cook until the tomato is mushy.

4) When the pasta is nearly done, add the chard or spinach and herbs to the sauce and stir until just wilted.

5) Add the feta and olives and stir, then drain the pasta.

6) Place pasta and sauce in the empty pasta pan and stir to combine.

Serve with a green salad. Should taste like summer in the Mediterranean.

How lovely!

A nice little package arrived this morning...

Purple podded pea seeds! And climbing beans! 20 peas, 10 beans... plenty for me to sow this year so I can save the seeds and have a great crop next year. Thank you Celia!

How exciting!!

I'm going to have a go at pea breeding... should be interesting. I just fancy a play really.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Notice anything new?

Like, my header?

Now try refreshing the page.

Hopefully you'll see a different image.

Theoretically you should see one of seven images...

...which will change randomly every time you visit the page.

Cool huh? Well I like it anyway.

Yum - and today is day 76. I counted.

It's pretty awesome to be in the middle of cooking a meal and decide you want, say, salad leaves or spinach or some fresh herbs, and just go outside and collect them.

Yesterday we picked baby spinach, leaf beet and rainbow chard (there isn't really enough of any one of them to make a meal on their own yet) to eat with dinner. I simply washed it and wilted it in a hot saucepan (I hate overcooked spinach), squeezed out the excess water and added a little butter and some black pepper.

It tasted completely different to the stuff I buy in bags from the supermarket - very tender but with a nice crunch to the stems, a lovely earthy and slightly sharp taste. As fresh as possible, and no nasty chemicals. And weirdly none of that not-so-pleasant "furry teeth" feel I associate with spinach.

I wonder how much of my enjoyment is due to the fact that home-grown stuff does taste better, and how much is due to my pride in the fact that I grew it myself?*

*Not massive amounts of pride admittedly, because chard and leaf beet and spinach are all really really easy to grow. I just sowed the seeds and watered them and they did the rest.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Garden update, I've lost count of what day it is

Had a nice day today, spent the afternoon in Weston Park in Sheffield with some choir people having a picnic and playing frisbee and enjoying the sun.

We took Summer, and she enjoyed meeting Pete's dog Fitz again (they met carol singing last year, although neither of them sang for some reason). Bless.

Have some garden pics. Excuse the poor quality, I used my phone - you get the idea though.

The greenhouse, which currently contains squash/courgettes (which need to go outside), tomatoes, peppers, chillies, melons and cucumbers. And spiders.

Potatoes, with sunflowers visible to the right. Completely recovered from the frost, just a few slightly browned leaves.

Carrots, beetroot, sweetcorn, salsify, spring onions, fennel, edible wild plant mix (yum), cucumber. Some lettuces and salad mix on the right.

Salad mixes, currently occupying the spaces allocated to tomatoes (in the greenhouse at the moment). The spirally poles will support the tomatoes. Not visible is the new asparagus I sowed, because it hasn't germinated yet. Fingers crossed for it.

Nasturtiums (for leaves and flowers for salads, to attract beneficial insects, and for butterflies to lay eggs on so they leave my brassicas alone), purple sprouting broccoli, red cabbage, romanesco cauliflower, calabrese, squash/courgettes.

Peas, which I think are beautiful. Just visible in front are dwarf French beans, and not at all visible behind are more dwarf beans, pole beans, pumpkins, buttercup squash and melons.

Onions, rainbow chard, garlic, spinach. Not visible is the quinoa behind the chard. You can just make out the new salad leaves seedlings top right.

We've already eaten loads and loads of helpings of salad leaves (3 different mixes), cut-and-come-again lettuce, chard, leaf beet and edible wild plants (dandelions are rather good, I have to say). I'm almost sick of leaf salad! We haven't bought any of the bagged supermarket stuff for at least a month, and we eat salad practically every day - some has also found its way to our respective parents.

Next vegetable to be harvested? See if you can guess...

.... yeah, it's a pea flower! I never realised they were such lovely flowers, looks very like a sweet pea to me. Shame I couldn't get the actual flower in focus, but it's not a bad macro for a phone really. I'll go out with Michael's camera tomorrow.

So yeah, everything's going well. I have to say I'm pleased so far with my first proper veg-growing experience.

Oh and check this out... a red-podded pea!!!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


It's late, maybe 11pm, maybe 12. My parents are still awake, and every so often I hear one of them creak upstairs to go to the bathroom. They are watching television, my brother fast asleep in his room, the cat curled up in her basket, and for all I know the whole of the rest of the world is asleep as well.

I'm not.

I'm tired but I can't sleep. It's always been like this. I always beg to stay up a bit later, or to have a half hour of reading time in bed, and when it's time for lights out I sneak the light on anyway and read some more and if I hear footsteps on the stairs I click it off fast and pretend to be asleep so I don't get in trouble.

"Turn that light off and get to sleep!"

If only it was that easy.

It's late, and I have school in the morning. I never want to get up, which isn't surprising. At weekends I sleep in until 10 when Mum wakes me up, and I spend most of the day in my pyjamas reading or watching TV with my brother - at 5 he's 5½ years younger than me so we watch kid's TV but I don't mind. On Saturday nights Dad goes to the pub and Mum usually takes us to Pizza Hut, then my brother goes to bed and I watch TV with Mum, or we play board games until Dad comes home. Sunday is roast Sunday dinner where I'm forced to eat peas and baking a fruit cake and visiting family and watching
The Simpsons and egg sandwiches and pork pie and fruit salad for tea.

But tonight is Tuesday, so school tomorrow. Mum and Dad have gone to bed now. And I'm still awake. I've already been told off for reading tonight, so I don't put the light on again. Instead I lean into the window behind my bed, pulling the curtain over my head and down my back. The orange light from the streetlamps is just enough for me to make out the print of my book, so I can read at least. I have a vast collection of Enid Blyton books and I've read this one,
Six Cousins Again, over and over again. It's not that I like it particularly, it's just habit. This is the book I read in the window. When I finish it, I'll start it again.

Eventually my eyes start to hurt, because arc-sodium isn't ideal for reading. I glance out into the street. It's raining steadily, tapping on the windows, water running in dirty orange rivers down the gutters.

We live on the end of a small quiet street which joins to a busy main road. I can see the main road from my window. In the daytime I'm allowed to cross it by myself because I'm sensible, but Mum prefers me to walk down the road to use the crossing. Right now it's quieter but there are still cars passing - at night the cars drive themselves, sending a plume of roadwater out behind them, headlights bouncing off the drops of rain. Inside is dark and empty.

It's cold, and I pull the quilt around myself under the curtain and wrap myself up to the chin. I should feel safe. I had to wipe the fog of condensation off the window with my hand and it feels cold and damp so I tuck the hand into my pyjama top and try to warm it on my stomach, but all that happens is that both places get cold. The smell of cold damp window is like no other smell. The clear patch will mist up again as I breathe, but now drops of water run down to meet each other at the bottom and pool on the sill. If I'm careful I can draw a track with my finger and the drops will follow my path. I write my name - backwards so you can read it from outside - but within a few minutes it is obscured by the rivulets, scribbled out and unreadable. I draw a rabbit, a horse, a flower. All disappear.

It's still orange outside. Still raining. Still late. A bus trundles past, lit up inside like an dirty old aquarium, but instead of fish and plants and rocks there's just a few people sitting wrapped up in coats and scarves, not moving. How are there people still awake? A second and the bus is gone, and I have the sudden grisly thought that the passengers could have been dead. At least, they didn't look alive.

Or maybe they were asleep. Because I'm surely the only person awake.

And I've never felt as alone as I do right now.