Friday, July 30, 2010

Move along nothing to see here....

I may have mentioned in a previous rambling thought how we manage to spread confusion amongst our neighbours. Quite frankly they seem to think we are stark staring raving loonies, and not just because we are British.

One of looniest things I do, according to my neighbours, (all in their seventies, all farmers, all stepping in the same footsteps as their parents and their grandparents and their great grandparents before them), is that I grow herbs. Not just parsley - which is completely acceptable as long as it is flat leaf, picked fresh and used instantly, and bulb garlic - which is also acceptable as long as you only grow the one bulb which will last for several months, and each clove has to be peeled to reveal a tiny garlic splinter before use.

I actually grow things they have only just recently seen on TV, and therefore these are things that don't actually exist in real life yet and are almost illicit in their exoticness.

You know the sort of exotic thing, like chives, sage and bay, oregano, coriander, lemongrass and thyme, peppermint, wild garlic, garlic chives and basil.

Our nearest neighbour is forever coming over and poking at things with his foot, demanding their names and culinary uses, which only serves to deepen the confusion, because our neighbour doesn't eat anything that may be considered in the slightest as exotic, like spaghetti bolognese, or pizza. He was overwhelmed when I tried to tempt him with a frittata the other day made with goose eggs and thyme - I thought he was going to summon the priest for an exorcism he looked so utterly horrified.

Today it just got worse, I don't think he got any work done in his own garden because he spent most of the morning wandering across to see what his loony neighbour was doing every 5 minutes.

Conversations went like this:

He: What are you doing?
I: I'm cutting oregano.
He: Why?
I: To dry it.
He: Why?
I: So I can use the dried leaves in winter.
He: Why?
I: Because we like the flavour they add to foods.
He: What sort of foods?
I: Italian dishes mainly, that have tomato as a sauce base.
He: Italian (French body shrug and untranslatable 'huh' noise) Why?
I: We like Italian dishes.
He: Why?
I: They have lovely rich flavours, are easy and cheap to make. Do you want to try a leaf of oregano?
He: Why?
I: To taste the flavour.
He: (taking the tiniest piece of leaf, dabs it on his tongue and spits it out) What's that? (points at sage)
.... (conversation as above repeats itself) ......
He: (having spat the sage leaf out too) I've seen that on TV (points at curly parsley)
I: It's just parsley but with a different leaf, do you want to try some?
He: ( backing away ) I'm going to tell my mother.

The front of the house is now bedecked with bunches of drying herbs, and both of my nearest neighbours have driven past at 0 miles an hour for a good stare and point.

What did they do for entertainment before we moved in........
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cocktail hour....

...... well it is Thursday, which seems as good a reason to make a cocktail as any other.

My : - Sitting around reading Dick Francis on a Thursday afternoon cocktail  - recipe

Take one blender - you know the one, it's been lurking at the back of the cupboard since Christmas, yes that's the one, you smiled and said how lovely, but were really thinking how much you would rather have had that spa day voucher instead, anyway, take that blender by the horns and drag out into the light of day. 

Clean off the cobwebs and splash a bit of boiling water in it in a half hearted attempt to clean it before using.

Press a couple of the buttons to make sure it works - now press them again this time remembering to put the cover on the jug and so avoid getting splashed by that boiling water you just threw in there to clean it out.

Now look around the kitchen, pantry and garden and don't despair you have got something that you can put in there now you have gone to all this trouble to drag the blasted thing out.

My token cocktail recipe attempt is this:-

1 sharon fruit - no I didn't know what it was either but they were 5 for 1 euro on special offer and so I couldn't resist - turns out they are rather yummy in a firm fleshy peachy melony kind of way.

4 ice cubes of frozen strawberries pureed last year when I had run out of strawberry recipes.

1 generous glug of lemon vodka - yes of course that it a shot of the icebox in my fridge and yes of course all there is in there are 3 bottles of vodka - what else would you keep in tiny freezer in your fridge?

Where was I - fruit gone in, vodka in, about a third up the blender jug of rosé wine, then blend.

Do that now before topping up with fizzy water, and remember to put the lid on.  

Did you read that properly - don't whizz it with the fizzy water in - oh alright then, gone on, whizz it with the water in and come back in half an hour when you have finished cleaning fizzy cocktail off everything.

Then sit back - grab a novel and enjoy - it is Thursday after all and you're worth it.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Busy busy gardening and courgettes as the ulitmate bribery tool.

Yes - there you have it, the ultimate weapon in the parental arsenal. Not so much carrot but stick.

"Do as I tell you or I will make you eat courgettes for dinner - AGAIN!"

Rule number 10 in the handbook of bad parenting - negative enforcement.

That is how I got Thea to help me do some weeding in the garden today. In fact we acheived quite a bit, removed some of the 2 metre high red weed so that the cucumbers could get some light, picked two bags of broccoli heads ready for the freezer, a whole crate of the dreaded courgettes and our first patty pan squash.

From 10 seeds last year I only had 1 germinate and that plant produced only 1 squash. Instead of eating it I have been carefully nurturing the squash all winter and in spring I cut out the seeds and planted them out. I had three plants develop and these have been out in the garden for a while, all three have lots of flowers and now the first fruit. I am too excited to acutally eat it, I am just saving it to look at for little bit.

With the courgettes hanging like the sword of Damacles over her head I got some good weeding out of Thea, we made our way up the pumpkins through the beetroots, around the caulis, back down the onions and out again through the broccoli. I now have 2 rows ready to plant out our winter animal fodder crop of turnips.

And what was for dinner I hear you cry?................................

........................... well courgettes of course!

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photogenic garden flowers

Took my camera out into the garden today to take some long overdue shots.

Dill and leeks flowering taken with my Canon on a standard 18-55mm lens on a monochrome setting.

Uploaded the rest to my flickr account - and now really should upload them to redbubble if only I could remember my passwords.

Monday morning blues

I had Monday morning blues yesterday.

Why is Monday such a difficult day?

Dragged myself around the house doing housework in the morning in a very desultory way.  Then the same around the garden, pulling a few weeds here and there and hacking away at a few other things but not really acheiving anything at all.

I dragged myself to work in the same despondent manner and found myself cheering up once there.  Mostly because they asked me to turn up another couple of trouser hems in return for some flowers from their garden.

So I came home with a bag of marigolds to plant out, some winter salads and a lighter demeanour altogether.

Thea and I tackled the overgrown flower bed, pulling up the remains of all the poppies squashed flat by the storm a couple of weeks ago and filled the flower bed with tomato plants and marigolds, then pulled out the lettuces that had bolted from the garden and replanted with winter salads - cut and come again leaves that should keep going right through to November under the polytunnel.

(I did take some pics but have not had chance to get them loaded up yet).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A friendly game of petanque

The cook-a-thon yesterday was in aid of today's picnic which typically ended in a game of petanque.
Here is Brendan concentrating on his shot (note the tongue stuck out to aid in his concentration).

A spirited discussion on whose boule is nearest the cochonnet.
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Molly the Dolly

I had not really intended to go the car boot this morning. In fact I was feeling really quite lazy after yesterday's preservathon, then the cookathon, then an evening spent in the garden with drinks and BBQ with friends. But at the last minute as Brendan was on his way out the door I grabbed my purse and went along.

And I am very glad I did, otherwise I would not have met Molly.

I have been halfhearedly looking at dressmaking mannequins for a while now, vintage ones being waaaaaaay out of my budget, and new ones even more shockingly expensive, so I though it was a bit of a pipe dream.

Then there she was, nestling in among some old pictures, a kettle BBQ and some pots and pans.

I did have to walk around the car boot twice before deciding to spend all my money on her, but by the time I got to the car park with the box I was bursting with excitement at installing her in the studio.

In honour of her arrival, and because I was stupid enough not to draw my fly curtain across the door last night, I gave my studio a spring clean. Dusted the corners, cleaned the kettle and restocked my water bottles, cleaned the iron, swept the floor and vacuumed the rug of all the bits of thread that seem to accumulate at my feet, then swatted all the flies that had not managed to gum themselves to the fly paper.

Molly is modelling my current work in progress, a tunic top adapted from my new pattern purchased the other day.
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More courgettes and preserving under oil.

Having had our fill of courgette recipes over the last few days, I picked the rest from the plants and spent an hour preparing them for freezing ready to use throughout the winter.

Each plant has at least one large marrow sized courgette still on it - ready to be made up into stuffed marrows, and more baby courgettes on the way, they just need a couple more days to warrant picking.

I freeze them in either baby courgette thin slices, thicker courgette chunks or larger thicker skinned courgettes, peeled and sliced, ready for whatever a recipe may demand, use from frozen otherwise they go all limp and mushy.

While feeling inspired to get preserving, I found a couple of sweet peppers mouldering away in my veggie basket and rather than waste them or even worse, they go off and I have to bin them, I thought I would preserve them under oil.

I do this whenever we get a glut of things in the garden and as an alternative to freezing stuff all the time.  I like the flavoured oils I get at the end too.

So - with some jars sterilised in the oven, (at a high heat for 20-30 minutes), I chopped the peppers quite thinly, so they are ready to use straight from the jar, sliced up a couple of rich ripe plum tomatoes, and peeled a whole head of garlic.

Stuff the peppers into the jar, about half way add a few slices of tomato then keep stuffing with peppers, as a finishing touch wedge a couple of cloves of garlic in, I do this with the jars piping hot direct from the oven.  Then pour over your oil of choice.  Because I want a flavoured oil at the end, and olive oil has too rich a taste of its own to take on the delicate flavours of peppers and tomato, I use grape seed oil instead.  It is also much lighter in colour so you see a lovely mix of colours from the veg themselves.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Well I thought....

.... that today's blog would be about tidying up my greenhouse as a project, but as it turns out it is all about cutting my hair.

Brendan gave me my annual haircut today, all 10 inches hacked off with a pair of sharp scissors.

As you can see not a trace of the purple hair colour remains and that can only mean one thing - I am also due a hair dye session.

I hate visiting the hairdressers, much as many people view a trip to the dentist with stomach curdling trepidation, so I view a trip to the coiffeuse.

For the last 10 years it has been DIY haircuts for me, sometimes with Brendan chopping my ponytail off, sometimes just me badly chopping layers in, fringes have come and gone over time, but I have always been blessed with very fast growing hair. The ponytail removed today is just over 18months worth of growth and an eyebrow height fringe can be down to chin length in a couple of months.

So here I sit with barely touching my shoulders length hair, feeling all light headed and flicky at the edges, wondering what colour should I go now?
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Greenhouse spruce up

I grow most of my tomatoes in the greenhouse. Having had a year when we lost all the plants to mildew in the garden (being left with no tomatoes was awful, watching the plants rot away before your eyes), so now I don't take any chances.

I do still put a few in the garden but tend to just grow what I consider sauce tomatoes like moneymaker outside, and these are from seeds collected from shop bought tomatoes.

In the greenhouse I grow cherry and plum tomatoes for eating, and these are from purchased organic seeds, although this year I have a lot of 'rogue' tomato plants that have self seeded from last years spill of fruit on the ground.

This morning I gave the greenhouse a spruce up - removed the planting table and pulled all the stray weeds coming in at the sides.

As you can see I use growbags. We decided that this was the best way to preserve the soil in the greenhouse floor.

I grow through the grow bags, they have a long split underneath to allow the roots to push through into the soil below, but it means when I add my nettle fertiliser it is concentrated into the grow bag and not just dispersed throughout the soil so the plant gets a better hit. At the end of the year when the plants are done, the grow bags are split open and the soil dispersed, manure added and a fresh batch of compost starts to mature, keeping the soil in the greenhouse rich and healthy.

In one corner is my 'nursery' plot, with the last few pots of toms for growing on, as well as some basil and chili peppers. In the other far corners are my aubergine plants, and a lemon tree.

But the best thing of all this morning, was finding the first couple of cherry toms ready for eating.  Not exactly a standard breakfast but very yummy non the less.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The story of a maxi dress....

There was once a maxi dress.

A lovely maxi dress in pretty purples and pinks.

It came from a land of orange logos, where it had once nestled amongst family favourties for a fiver, but was then cruelly cast adrift on the seas of ebay.

Luckily one day, a little green fairy was cruising those same seas of ebay, in her little paypal boat, and she spotted the maxi dress.

She waved her magic wand of visa and the beautiful purple and pink maxi dress floated across the waves to a special land of vegetables and chickens.

But the little green fairy was sad.

The beautiful dress told lies.

It went in where it should have gone out, and went out where it should have gone in.

The little green fairy was perplexed, then after a little green drinkie she had a very clever idea.

She cut off the bit that went in when it should of gone out, and stitched together the bits that went out when they should have gone in, and the beautiful maxi dress was saved.

And they all lived happily ever after.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The 20 minute T-shirt makeover

Just as it says in the title.

The left over crochet flowers from the batch I made the other day.

One plain green T-shirt.

20 minutes and a sharp needle later.

One re-vamped T-shirt.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Quick amendment to yesterday's project

Having tried to wear the top today I discovered that I had over estimated how much width I needed to preserve across the top, so to stop it from gaping open and revealing a little too much to the world, I added a box pleat to the front this morning.

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Wardrobe refashion frenzy - converting skirts to tops Part 2

Stained Skirt to Vest Top 

I managed to get a big red stain on this skirt - no idea how, it may have been red wine or it could just as easily have been cherry juices from my jam making or even beetroot juice, anyway the end result was one ruined skirt - and a hand made skirt in some lovely old retro fabric at that.  Well there was no way I was going to take that lying down, so out came the scissors and another refashion was born.

First I removed the waistband and put it to one side.  As this skirt is made from scraps and I don't have any more of the material around, every square inch is required.

For the armholes I copied the curve from another pattern onto some publicity paper.

I then pinned the skirt together from the removed waistband along the side seams to the approximate depth of the armholes, drew the curve onto the material and cut through the double thickness of the material.

Once the armholes had been cut out, I unpinned the material, opened it out and pinned a small hem to finish, this was then whizzed into place with straight stitches on the sewing machine.

As the neck line front and back was now a raw edge, and with no material to spare I used a couple of rectangles of contrasting cotton to create a neck piece into which I could tuck the raw edges and give a nice finish to make the top look like a top rather than a skirt with two holes cut in it.

To start, I pinned the contrast material to the necklines, right sides to right sides.  The skirt material has some horizontal pattern lines so I just used one of those as the base line to follow.

Once pinned in place I basted the raw edges together.

Then with the use of the hot iron, I folded in the raw edges at the sides then tucked under to create a hem across the front and back to create a block of contrast material that I could then topstitch in place, but not until I had the straps in place.

To create the straps, I unpicked the old waistband, then refolded the raw edges in, fixed in place with the hot iron, and ran a line of topstitching down the length.

I then pushed the end of the straps into the sides of the contrast material at the back, then put on the top to find the right length for the straps.

I marked the correct length with a pin, and evened them up once I had removed the top, so that both straps were an identical length.

Here's the clever bit - remember that pin, don't remove it, just reposition it so that both straps are at the correct equal length, snip the remainder of the strap away leaving a tail just a couple of centimetre long, then feed the tail into the contrast border until you hit the pin, then secure the tail inside the border with a pin until time to stitch.  Neat and easy, much easier than trying to measure the straps once they are looped from front to back.

With the straps in place, I topstitched all the way around the contrast material in straight stitch, reversing over the places where the straps feed into the front and back corners.

Now with the main body of the top finished I just had to do something about the stain on the front.  Using the bits of armhole I had cut out, I fashioned a pocket, with a top band from the same contrast material.  I stitched the band, right sides together at the top of the pocket, then folded a hem in much the same way as for the necklines.

I just zig-zag stitched around the raw edge of the pocket, then pinned it in position, and folded the raw edge in, then top stitched the pocket into place.

Not a very good photo I know, but it is the finished article, ready to wear.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Invasion of the courgettes

You turn your back on them for one day and they have taken over. The invasion of the courgettes has begun.

 Time to once again delve deeply into the recipe searches to find something interesting to do with them.

Today's courgette recipe idea is courtesy of the Smitten Kitchen website.  I found this by following a link from a link from a link, a chain that started by clicking on the 'next blog' button on the taskbar - a sure fire way to get lost in space for a couple of hours.

I am making an adaptation of her ratatouille tart.

Courgette Tart

On this occasion I am in complete agreement with the smitten kitchen, summer is too short for making pastry, so I am using ready rolled feuillette pastry - a type of puff pastry readily available in the chiller cabinet here in France.

Roll out over a baking tray, and smear on a fine layer of tomato puree.

Then layer on thin slices of aubergine and courgette.
Add a sliced ripe and and juicy tomato, then drizzle with a little garlic infused olive oil, and some freshly ground black pepper.

Just before baking, add some mozzarella roughly torn into chunks and a generous spinkle of dried or fresh basil leaves.

Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold for a summery lunch or as we are tonight, as a side dish for some barbequed pork chops.
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