Wednesday 28 September 2011

Golden Garden

It definitely feels like summer outside this week, but there are plenty of signs that we're already well into the season to follow. It was hot and balmy this afternoon but while I got some gardening jobs done I realised that the sky was rather still and very quiet. All this dreary summer long the housemartins, who nested above our bedroom window, have flitted in and out as they raised their four broods and every sunny day the skies over the meadows were thick with birds chattering and calling to each other.

But now they've gone. Off again for another year, maybe heading out across the Channel or pausing down south for a pit stop while the sun shines again. Driving past the farm yesterday there wasn't a swallow left sitting on the telegraph wires. Susan Hill likens the arrival and the departure of the swifts as "hidden apostrophes around the summer" as most are gone by the second week in August. The housemartins though stretch the season on and it seems strange that the week summer finally reappearred, they have not.
My Sarah Raven sweet peas have been a roaring success this year. The scent from this dark mix I planted in a half barrel on the patio are so heady that it carries on the breeze and into the house. My only problem with them is that once they're in a jug they can look rather sombre without all the greenery. I've mixed mine in with other flowers but next year I think I shall plump for the brights mix instead.
Another sign of Autumn despite the tempreatures. I've spent the afternoon potting up crocus and narcissi for a lovely show by the doors early in the spring. While I was at it I put these sweet cyclamen and a pretty heather in a planter for some colour for this season. I'll add a few more I think and in a month or so I'll pile up some gourds we've been growing and a pumpkin or two on the doorstep.
Florence in the garden 
The hens have really matured now and we're finding two or three eggs a day, the boys are besides themselves! Plenty of arguing goes on everyday about who's turn it is to check.

Autumn flowers are filling the garden with late colour and the bees are having a field day. Helianthus Lemon Queen (I think, it came from the WI with no label!) is a real favourite of mine. I should have staked it really I suppose but I do enjoy the way it weaves and waves around. Last Autumn I split it and now it bookends my patio border and I get a lovely view of it from the kitchen window with pots of dhalias behind.
I've added lots of asters to the garden this year. I think ideally, if I had the space, I'd indugle in a big prairie scheme but with fewer grasses (not so mad about those) but in our little patch I'm adding asters and rudbekias where ever I can manage to fit them.
This lovely plant is Aster Little Carlow, I've been wishing for it for a long time and found one at the Chatsworth Plant Fair a couple of weeks ago on an afternoon out with my sister.
Not sure which this is, it was the only flowering plant in our garden when we arrived and its a very lovely thing. There's something so simple but perfect about asters. I love the colours and the way they wave in the breeze and look fantastic in this low, golden late September light.

Talking of which, the sun has just set. 7 o'clock and dusk outside already. I can hear a tawny owl calling from the wood. Must go and fetch that washing in and put the hens to bed. Night night.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Thrifty Autumn Outfit

Now I know summer is supposed to rocket back in later this week and bring us the sort of temperatures we haven't seen around here since April, but that's a blip as far as I'm concerned. There is a bowl full of conkers on the kitchen table, asters in a jug on the mantelpiece and I've cooked a crumble already.
All this means that it is most definitely autumn and therefore perfectly fine to wear my pumpkin coloured cardigan. So I have. With my new frock. Both fairly recent charity shop finds (cardi = Per Una, dress = Florence & Fred at Tesco), I've been waiting and waiting for the temperature to drop so that I can team these two with my faithful brown boots and some delicious looking, rusty orange tights I found in New Look last week.
Oh I do like wearing frocks with tights and boots. There is a cosiness to this sort of outfit that I can't describe. I am just so much more comfortable in this attire than thin summery skirts and things with short sleeves.

So I will succumb to the sunshine later in the week and wear something light and airy, but inside I shall be railing and wishing for a nip in the air.
Have a lovely week. First recipe added to the home cooking page at last. More to follow soon!

Saturday 17 September 2011

Foraging Time

It seems our hedgerow harvest is a little behind most of the country. I've read of people missing the blackberries already but around our way only a few have ripened so far. I tramped across the fields this morning, dodging the showers and sheltering under beech trees when the rain was heavy, on a little foraging trip hoping for fruit.

Solo tramping was very relaxing but rather quiet. My little men begged to stay at home today and finish some mammoth Lego construction with daddy supervising and who am I to argue? After a long week, concentrating hard at school all they wanted was to be left to play, cosy in pyjamas with toast and hot chocolate to keep them going. I think they deserved it.
There were hips and haws a plenty on the hedgerows and some beautifully dusky sloes but as we're not really drinkers I thought I'd leave those for the birds rather than take them to make sloe gin with.
I've had my eye on a lovely crab apple tree all summer but the little fruits are still quite hard, bright green and firm on the tree so another forage in a few more weeks will hopefully yield up a crop of rosy apples ready for picking. Crab apple jelly with cheddar cheese and some smoky ham is divine.
Hunting was much better along the canal side. In this picture you can see the line of trees I walked along (from right to left) and then I cut through the water treatment plant (with my nose closed!) and down onto the tow path.
Its a funny day today, every time I took my hood down the rain returned, even though the sun was so bright.
This is my way back, past the narrow boats home to a few hardy souls. Today there was woodsmoke curling from a chimney and the smell followed me all the way home. Autumn is truly in the air.
Wellies by the back door is a sure sign the year is getting older. Crocs and sandals are packed away for months now. Time to gather my little haul of purpleness and make a crumble for lunch tomorrow. Yippee!!
Thanks for all your lovely comments about market shopping and recipes. Its especially great to hear from people who know our little market, small world!

Quite a few people have asked for some of the recipes and now at last I have worked out how to add separate pages to my blog I though I'd add a few of my standbys over the next few days. Some are from my favourite cook books so I'll add links and credits where I can, otherwise I hope you won't mind a few random scribblings on my favourite seasonal food. Hope to have the courgette cakes and paella dishes up later this evening. Have a happy Saturday Stephx

Sunday 11 September 2011

A Saturday Away

My parents are great. After a very busy summer they offered to give Woody and me a day to ourselves and took the boys off for adventures on steam trains and up church towers. So what to do with Autumn creeping in and a whole day to potter about? Only one choice for us, off to Ludlow we must go.
Up over the Shropshire Hills the season is much further on than in the Moorlands surprisingly. Every shade of crimson, sienna and burnt umber lined the hedgerows as we trundled along one of my favourite journeys in the world from Eccleshall to Newport ,(I ignore the bit through Telford - I studied near there for a year and I just have to admit its really not my sort of town), then on across the Severn, uphill to Much Wenlock and then the final stretch to Ludlow with the mighty tower of St Lawrence's church beckoning us on.
This journey turns me into a jibberring wreck of joy but we can only contemplate coming in the season of mists and mellow fruitfullness. There's something so magical about the textures and colours of Shropshire's patchwork landscape that transfixes me.
Acre after acre of blonde, stubble fields sat hard up against newly ploughed velvety furrows that snaked around knots of woodland changing into their autumn clothes. Yesterday was a day of heavy clouds then bright low sunshine that threw amazing shadows across the countryside as the clouds scudded swiftly over a soft blue sky. No photos sadly but those pictures will stay in my head all season.
This weekend is the Ludlow and Marches Food Festival , usually the sort of busy event that would put us off visiting but being just us two we thought we'd make the most of it and enjoy a bit of festiveness. Well I did.

Going to a Food Festival with a non-foodie is interesting believe me. Woody has no interest whatsoever. He likes a good meal but only if its quick and he doesn't have to get involved.  Left to his own devices he'd live totally from the freezer and the tin cupboard. London Grill with fish fingers and a fried egg is Woody's idea of foodie heaven. I was in my element though.
So we didn't do the tented village inside the castle but we visited the Fringe stalls and had a proper linger around the market admiring cobnuts and damsons, lychees and fennel, all sorts of tomatoes and fabulous apples. Woody does however love his cheese and fruit so we treated ourselves to a few local specials and the most delicious peaches.
Mostly we just enjoyed a bit of good old fashioned sauntering, people watching and mooching. There were Sausauge Trails, Ale Trails, Waiters Races, Pudding tasting; all sort of queues for this and that but we could still potter about in one of our favourite places and just enjoy the day.
Ludlow has few chain shops and is a British pioneer of the Italian Slow Food idea that puts shoppers back in touch with the best produce from where they live with the emphasis on quality, provenance and taste.
But there are other traders too, vintage heaven with lots of lovely emporiums selling salvage, clothing, brocante and lighting but my favourite shop is a traditional ironmongers, just like Frost's where my mum and dad used to shop. You could get everything from lawn seed to a roll of lino for the kitchen floor, all in a village shop in a row of terraced houses. Brilliant.
We came home with new books, old books, a few treats to stash away for Christmas, the new Country Living (perfect timing) and a beautiful bunch of Shropshire chyrsanthemums. Mine are a way off flowering yet so these are bringing a lovely feeling of harvest to our little home for now.What a wonderful day.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

New Season

Autumn has well and truly arrived this week. Blown into our our neck of the woods on gusty, blustery winds, full of lashing showers. I love it.
With the boys back at school (quite happily, couldn't wait to go back!) I had my first day off alone for weeks and got myself straight back into the shopping routine I like. The holidays tend to cause havoc with my attempts to organise what we have in the cupboards. In the past few years we've cut back our weekly shop drastically by sticking to a menu list, buying fresh and local as much as we can and the market in town is where we shop most.

This week's menu looks like this:
  • Monday - Spaghetti & vegetable bolognese
  • Tuesday - Chicken (left over from Sunday's roast) & chorizo paella
  • Wednesday - Smoked coley, oven chips & peas
  • Thursday - Courgette cakes with feta, roast tomatoes stuffed with cous cous
  • Friday - Homemade chicken curry (every week, without fail - it's a ritual!)
  • Saturday - Stir fried prawns & veg with rice
  • Sunday - Roast beef, roast potatoes, greens etc and plum crumble
Nothing very exotic and not huge amounts. Our two can be a bit fussy at times so there are a few fishfingers and tins of spaghetti hoops in there too. Some weeks we eat more fish, more veg and less meat. Next week I'm planning a spicy sausauge and lentil hotpot and baked white fish with a herby top I think.

I rarely do pudding during the week but make sure we have stocked up fruit bowls, plus the odd biscuit and maybe ice cream in the summer. All the meat (mince, ham for sandwiches etc, plus delicious cheese) comes from the butcher, including the small topside roasting joint I buy for less than £5 and should stretch to sandwiches too.
The greengrocers' stall looked particularly delicious today; new season apples (English Cox's and Egremont Russets) and three varieties of plums - I came home with Majorie Seedling today, hope she doesn't mind.
I love this way of shopping, everything in paper bags, minimal waste and time for chat too. On sunny days the cobbled market square is bustling but the showers kept most away today. After the market I head to the bargain supermarket in the town centre to stock up on tins, cereals, pasta/rice, olive oil, cleaning things and the like. In and out of there in 15 mins, no fuss or frills and value too.

We eat very well I think and for not much money at all. With Autumn on the doorstep it gets even easier and better value too. Root vegetables are in their prime, perfect for roasting and mashing. Casseroles fill the house with rich, warming flavours transforming cheaper cuts into succulent dishes to savour. Colder evenings call for earthy, spicy dishes that warm you through. Hurrah for Autumn, the finest season for the frugal cook to conjur with.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Cornish Dreams

Well, what a week we've had to round off the summer. Heading south-west last week in the pouring rain we never imagined that we'd return sunburnt, stuffed with ice creams and with several hundred hours body boarding under our belts. The wind blew (very, very hard) and there was plenty of cloud, but each day the weather improved and from mid week on Cornwall did a very good impression of the Med, only I'd take the breaking surf and rocky coves of these shores any day.
Mostly we stayed north this year, discovering new beaches and glorious views with wheat fields rolling to the edge of mighty cliff tops. As ever we coseyd up in a lovely old cottage in Port Isaac and stayed just yards from the harbour in a higgeldy-piggeldy little house with ancient wooden floors, thick walls, deep window seats and a wonderful view of the sea that we weren't expecting. Many hours in the early morning and evenings were spent sat here gazing let me tell you. I always take a couple of crochet blankets away with us just in case and I don't think they've ever looked more at home!
And we ventured to the south coast too, for our favourite ferry trip over to Polruan from Fowey. Such a simple thing and full of pleasure for us. We pootled around the village, fought the tide as ever and then chugged back across for a pasty.
One early sunny morning before breakfast, while everyone else was lolling around for a while, I managed to grab a precious hour alone for a very longed for walk up to the cliff top at Lobber Point. A tall ship was anchored just off the bay and I spent an age watching it and the smaller fishing boats pull up their lobster pots, enjoyed the wind in my hair and endless peace and quiet.
We got onto a beach everyday thankfully, even if it was pretty bracing at times. But our little men didn't seem to care and this was finally the year we kitted them both out with a wet suit and body board. Oh my, what fun. Later there was time to sit and watch the waves and be so thankful for the sun smiling on us and just to be together.
Such a brilliant time, more memories made and the perfect way to say goodbye to summer.

P.S. Thanks for all the smashing comments left this summer. I love reading them and really appreciate your time and effort to keep in touch with me even if I can't get around to saying hello myself all that often. Thanks so much.