If Life Gives You Green Tomatoes TWTW # 92

Greetings from my kitchen, where in between typing these sentences I’m making Green Tomato Chutney. It’s 8am and the smell is amazing boiling down the mix of tomatoes, apples, onions and sultanas to a thick pulpy mix.

This is a little bit of therapy, making something from home grown produce that will take well over an hours to prepare, but will keep me going in chutney for some time. More details below.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I decided yesterday to pick the remaining tomatoes on the allotment to avoid them getting blight – the weather conditions have been right for this the past few days and I don’t want to lose the crop waiting for it to ripen when I could do something with it. It was worth doing too, as I had over 3.5 kgs of tomatoes. I separated off those that will ripen on the window sill and the rest are going to chutney. The recipe I’m using is here. I ended up with 9 full jars which is good going.

In addition to the tomatoes we’ve also been picking more patti-pans and squashes on the allotment this week. Otherwise things are at a bit of a crossroad between seasons where winter crops are growing but not ready yet and summer stuff is coming to an end.

I’ll need to think about my seed order soon too. I got a little caught out by shops being closed due to Covid this year, so am thinking I’ll be order all in one go instead of spreading them out over time from different suppliers like I have in previous years.


After some six weeks of delay by BT they finally got around to turning on our fibre connection this week. I can’t actually say things appear any faster, although theoretically when I test the line the download speed is about four times faster than before. I suspect where I’ll notice it is uploading files as that has increased by an even greater degree. The speed of the wi-fi has of course not changed, so unless I’m hardwired into the router that will determine the speed of most things.


I’ve had some work to do this week. An unexpected commission from a client that I’ve been working on between other things. It reminded me that I need to do something about the library of technical documents that I’ve been building over the last few years. It is all electronic and not stored in the same place, some split across different computers and folders. Ideally I’d like it all in one place as reference materials for future projects, but I need to take some time out to drag it all together, and also to make an appropriate structure for it to sit in. It’s not been top of my list of priorities, but it’s a pain when I need to look for something and it’s often stored in a folder of a project where I lasted worked on it.


I took quite a lot of photos this week, but they were on film, so I can’t share any of them just yet. I have at least posted the roll off for processing, so hopefully there’ll be something to share next time. They’re all standard colour 35mm so no more infrared yet. I also bought a new battery for one of my old film cameras, and am planning to use that next.


When you look at the face of the guy in this video preview and read the title you’re expecting something different to watch actually happens next:


 

I’ve been reading the Pandemic Kitchen Newsletter this week. You can subscribe for free and I’d recommend it if you are at all interested in cooking. There have only been a couple of editions so far, but you can look at the archives before subscribing if you’re not sure.

I’ve also been finishing the audio book of James Holland’s Battle of Britain. It’s a really good listen with first hand accounts taken from diaries written at the time and starting back with the allied retreat from Dunkirk, through to late 1940.


Schools return this week in most of England. Or at least they do at the time of writing. Given the way the government has handled the whole thing, you have my sympathy if you’re a parent wondering whether you and your children will be safe or are just simply trying to work out exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing! The whole eat out / lose weight; stay home / go to work; algorithm results / teachers results; government approach to organising the proverbial couldn’t be more farcical if it were a situation comedy. Thinking about it, you also have my sympathy if you’re a writer of political comedies and are constantly being out done by the real thing as opposed to the fiction you are trying to write.


That’s it for this week, and if you’ve made it this far thanks for reading. As always stay safe and take care.

Switcheroo TWTW # 91

No – Don’t Panic! It is still only Sunday. I thought that I would switch things up this week and post this weeks update on Sunday. It might become a permanent change.

It’s really a recognition of how my routines have changed over the past few months. It used to be that Sunday mornings were my time for doing things for my Mum, a regular date and time, shopping, cutting lawns or whatever needed doing.

Now that she’s in long term care I don’t have that same commitment, the time and date have shifted. Normally I would write most of this post in advance. Sometimes a little bit each day, sometimes all in one go on a Monday morning. Now, although I’m still dropping things in during the week, I do most of the writing on a Sunday and schedule the post to go live on a Monday morning (because at the moment I’m busy doing something else). Seems a bit daft, so I thought today I’d write it, and then as soon as it’s done hit post. I realise that this might confuse a few people who subscribe by email or RSS but as I said – Don’t Panic! It’s still Sunday! Be chilled like our neighbourhood cat who I photographed mid-week lying on the ridge of our garage catching the last rays of the day. I’m not a cat person but I did like this photo. I also read recently as to how routines are not always about when you do something, but just the fact that you do it regularly. The doing is important, but not necessarily being a slave to the clock. Sounds good to me.


I’ve read Joe Country by Mick Herron this week. It’s the last book in the Jackson Lamb series – I’ve read most of that series this year – and there’s another due in early 2021. It wasn’t the best of the series, but it was still really good.

I’ve started reading Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi. It’s a little odd but I’m sticking with it as I think it has an interesting tale to tell but isn’t prepared to reveal all just yet.


My friend David has a new book about one of my favourite characters of the old West coming out soon.


I did our grocery shopping via click and collect this week. When I went to collect our groceries it had been raining just beforehand. Probably around the time that the crates with our groceries in where being loaded onto the van and our groceries were a little damp. Some were damper than others. The eggs for example were so damp that when I picked up the box, its now soggy cardboard resembled the consistency of mush and in slow motion the eggs parted company with the bottom of the box and fell back into the crate. I managed to save a few, but most broke on impact. The van driver was very good about it, despite the fact he had to clear up the mess and I got a full refund for the eggs.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There seems to be quite a bit coming good at the allotment this week, the Uchiki Kuri Squash (Japanese Squash) are all just about ready. They’re an ideal squash for two people as they’re the right size to satisfy two appetites for a meal. I think I’ll be adding them to my list for seeds for next year.

I turned one into a squash, tomato and lentil pie on Saturday night, which will do us for tonight as well. The recipe came from Gill Meller’s Root Stem Leaf Flower cookbook.

I also wrote about the blackberry and apple that we had at the beginning of the week in another post in case you missed it.


 

Apparently I’m Sherlock Holmes – which fictional detective are you?


I really struggle to understand why people deliberately drop litter but some people are complete aresholes.

In some ways I think that the whole pandemic / lockdown thing has made me even more of a hermit than I was before, and when I see things like this I wonder just where society is going. I was brought up not to drop litter – to either take it home or wait until I got to a bin. Why is that so hard now, is it just that some people weren’t brought up that way or that they think someone else will clear up after them?


I’ve been reading about Covid-19 Long Haulers this week and how CFS/ME is on the rise. The government in the UK has long had a bias against CFS/ME (I can directly attest to this but it’s a story for another time), and I can see this being yet another area where they deliberately turn a blind eye to what is actually going on, as they have  done by revising the criteria by which you can only had died from Covid-19 if you die within 28 days of having had a positive test for Covid-19.


There’s a remake of All Creatures Great and Small coming to television. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before how much I love James Herriott’s original stories and the BBC production from the late ’70’s and ’80’s, which were very much a part of my childhood television. So I’m a little bit uncertain about a remake, but from the trailer I’m hopeful that it will be okay. We’ll see. I think I’m going to be doing some rereading anyway.


RIP Sir Ken Robinson


That’s it for this week. Hope I haven’t confused you too much. Take care and stay safe.

If Life Gives You Blackberries & Apple

If life gives you blackberries and apples, make stewed blackberry and apple.

We’ve been enjoying a healthy crop of blackberries for a few weeks now, but the bramley tree has only just started providing ripe fruit (apples are ripe if they come off the tree in your hand with no effort – if you have to tug leave them be).

On Monday this week we had both, probably the last of the blackberries and the start of the apples. So I rinsed off the blackberries and put them in a pan with a little water (about a tablespoon) just enough to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning and some of the bramleys – peeled, cored and cut into small chunks. Add sugar to taste – always a difficult thing in our house, Ann likes them really sweet, I like them a bit tart – and simmer over a low heat until the apples start to break down and get soft. Serve warm or allow to cool, with whatever you choose; custard, ice cream; both or chill and serve for breakfast as a compote.

If you have more time you could of course make jam / jelly, chutney, cakes and about a million and one other things.

If Life Gives You Blackberries, Make Crumble TWTW # 88

If last week went quickly, then this week seemed to hang around a lot longer, different things happening but mostly mundane stuff, not a week of excitement. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t feel like time was passing very quickly?

Austin Kleon wrote about how the coronavirus has changed the perception of time.

Time is running out for me to see comet Neowise though. I’ve had a few tries this last week, and although I’m pretty sure I did see it one evening, the light pollution is so bad here it’s hard to be totally sure.


My tomatoes have turned good, finally producing some good fruit and in reasonable quantity. On the allotment the tomatoes are a little bit further behind but there is still a good lot of fruit forming.

 

I also harvested our first cauliflower from the allotment this week, not huge but a reasonable size. We had it with some broccoli spears (also from the plot), cooked with some pine nuts and herbs and served with some pasta and feta cheese.

My remaining time on the plot this week has been spent watering and weeding.


Work has been quiet this week, no short notice commissions like last week, but the end of the month so the usual round of billing and admin to do. With it being so quiet at the moment, it doesn’t take long to do.


I’ve been reading a couple of Mick Herron novellas this week (The Drop, The List & The Catch). They’re in the Jackson Lamb series and fill in the gaps between the full books which I’ve enjoyed reading recently. I’ve also been catching up on National Geographic articles from the last couple of months.


My friend David had some poetry published this week – it’s rather good in my opinion, gritty but good. If you’re interested you can read it here.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Mum has some really good blackberries at her house at the moment and I harvested about half a kilos worth which I turned into a blackberry crumble mid-week. Just perfect served with some ice cream when it comes out of the oven. Even better it lasts for a couple of nights. Looking at the blackberries there might even be enough for round 2 this week.


Well that’s about all I have for this week, another short one. My week ahead is looking quiet. I have to take Wilson back to the vet for his repeat bloods, but otherwise not appointments at the moment. Whatever you are up to take care and stay safe!

Bit Twisted TWTW # 83

Hello again! This week started with a lot of promise of getting stuff done, and then on Wednesday morning I twisted my ankle and getting stuff done was restricted to what I could do sitting on my bum with my foot up. I don’t think I’ve done any serious damage, a bit of swelling is all I really have to show for it and painkillers keep most of the discomfort at bay. It has meant though that dog walks have been shorter or limited to the garden and I wasn’t able to drive for a few days.

It also meant that I spent one afternoon playing around with some watercolours. I doubt that I’m going to be a famous artist any time soon, but I did find it very relaxing and with no pressure or expectations it was nice to experiment.


I’ve continued with AudioMo throughout this month, some of the posts are just short snippets, others are longer recordings. Those that I haven’t listed in a previous post are linked below if you’re interested.

AudioMo will be over in just a couple of days and I’ve really enjoyed this years. The discipline of making myself record something everyday and discovering new voices and acquaintances along the way has been fun, and thought provoking.

AudioMo Day 15 – Currently Reading, Day 16 – A Lockdown Problem, Day 17 – To The Woods, Day 18 – Online Voting, Day 19 – Buffering, Day 20 – Buffering, Day 21 Harvesting After The Rain and Allotment Audio TourDay 22 – Woodland Ramblings, Day 23 – Lockdown Reading, Day 24 – A Touch of the Ouchies, Day 25 – Not at the #1984symposium, Day 26 – Reimagining Ansel Adams, Day 27 – Reflecting on AudioMo 2020, Day 28 – The Week Ahead


Work has been very quiet this week, which in some ways has been a blessing. I’ve been able to do some sorting of my Mum’s stuff and then being laid up with a twisted ankle hasn’t had the impact it might otherwise have done.


The Committee on Climate Change produced it’s annual report to government this week, it has recommendations for every government department. If you want to read the whole thing you can find it here or this Guardian piece is a good summary. I’ve been working my way through it slowly but my fear is that government will do little or nothing about it.


I read another Brother Cadfael this week – Dead Man’s Ransom, although these have kind of become my fall back when I don’t feel like reading anything else I found this one a little bit disappointing. Won’t stop me reading the next one though.

My friend David also published some poetry recently, it’s really good and you can read it here.


One thing that I didn’t do this week was visit the grave of George Orwell on his birthday (25th June). I’ve done this a few times but this year with coronavirus and a twisted ankle it wasn’t to be. These events are “organised” by my friend @documentally, and he wrote about it in his newsletter this week. If you don’t already subscribe to his newsletter you should, it’s free every other week or for the cost of a cup of coffee each month you can pay for the full weekly experience.


Lockdown seems to be completely over now, although we’re still broadly avoiding anything other than essential stuff here. Half-a-million beachgoers in Bournemouth had other ideas.


I haven’t been able to get much done on the allotment this week either, fortunately despite us having the hottest day of the year, we also had some rain so I didn’t have to worry about trying to get any watering done.


One of my minor successes this week was cooking a feta and spinach puff pastry roll. I’ve made this a few times and it’s really straightforward. You’ll need: a sheet of ready made puff pastry, a packet of feta cheese, a big handful of spinach, a bunch of parsley, some dried oregano, 2 eggs, some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge and allow to come up to room temperature to make it easier to handle.
  2. Preheat the oven to gas 6 or equivalent.
  3.  Get a baking sheet big enough to accomodate the puff pastry sheet and grease or line with baking paper to prevent the puff pastry sticking (baking paper also helps with one of the later actions, and is my preferred method)
  4. Wash, drain and dry the parsley and spinach and then roughly chop and place in a mixing bowl.
  5. Chop the feta into cubes and add to the spinach and parsley.
  6. Sprinkle oregano over the top (about 1 to 2 teaspoons) and salt and pepper (don’t be too heavy handed with the salt as feta is already quite salty).
  7. Add one of the eggs and about a tablespoon of olive oil, and mix everything together to combine.
  8. Next place the puff pastry on the greased / papered baking tray.
  9. Lengthways down the centre of the pastry place the spinach / feta mix. You don’t want to overload the pastry or you won’t be able to seal the roll but make sure it is evenly spread.
  10. Beat the other egg to combine the white and yolk.
  11. If you are using baking paper now lift the bottom edge of paper to make the bottom part of the pastry sheet fold over the spinach mix. Brush the egg mix of the exposed pastry atop the spinach mix and the exposed pastry above the mix. Then use the top part of the baking paper to fold the pastry down to cover the mix and overlap the pastry. Press down gently to seal, and seal the ends by pinching with your fingertips.
  12. Carefully cut three or four slices in the pastry to allow the mix to breath in the oven, and brush the whole thing with the remaining egg.
  13. Cook in the oven for around 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Serves 4 to 6. Works well with veg or salad or baked beans and chips if you want a trashy tea. Will keep in the fridge once cool if you can’t manage the whole thing in one sitting. Reheat in the oven at the same temperature / time; but cover with foil to prevent the pastry burning.


That’s it for this week – ankle permitting I’m going to be doing some more sorting of things for Mum in the week ahead but otherwise I don’t have any specific plans.

Stay safe!

Lemon Courgette, Pine Nuts & Feta Pasta

If you are starting to get a bit of a glut of courgettes, give this quick and easy pasta dish a try.

You’ll need (for 2 people):

  • 200g of your favourite dried pasta shapes
  • 1 regular sized courgette
  • 1 packet of pine nuts (100g)
  • 1 packet of feta cheese (200g)
  • 1 medium / large unwaxed lemon
  • Pepper to taste

The cooking of the pasta is the rate determining step in preparing this meal. Once you have prepped your other ingredients they only take about 5 minutes to cook, so get the pasta going first, and time it so that everything is ready together.

  1. Put a large pan of water on to boil to cook your pasta, once boiling add your pasta and cook according to the manufacturers instructions.
  2. While the water is coming to the boil and the pasta is starting to cook, prepare you courgette. Top and tail, and then cut length-ways and then length-ways again so that you have 4 spears. Cut each spear into bite sized pieces.
  3. Zest and juice the lemon and keep to one side.
  4. Chop the feta into cubes and keep to one side.
  5. Using a frying pan or similar heat and little oil and add the pine nuts and roast them gently until they start to brown.
  6. Add the chopped courgettes and continue to roast with the pine nuts.
  7. Once the courgettes are cooked, add a good grind of pepper and then add the lemon juice and zest and mix well to combine.
  8. Turn off the heat under the pine nut & courgette mix, and add the feta and stir together.
  9. Drain the pasta and serve, add the pine nut mix on top (alternatively add the drained pasta to the pine nut and courgette mix and combine).
  10. Eat!

Another Strange Anniversary : TWTW # 27

Another week that was supposed to go one way ended up taking a different direction, strange how despite all the planning things don’t seem to be turning out the way they were envisaged. It’s left me wondering how the week ahead will pan out, which looks like being another one at the moment, but could potentially change.


Four years ago I said goodbye to my last full time, paid job. Although at the time I didn’t really know how things were going to pan out, I’ve been asked a few times if I regret the decision to leave. Simply put the answer is no, although in the last four years combined, my income has probably been less than any of the years proceeding that, it allowed me to do many things. Although I didn’t know it at the time it allowed me to spend a lot more time with my Dad in the last year of his life. It allowed me to be present for some other difficult family things and possibly it reduced my stress levels and the chance I might have had a complete meltdown had I stayed where I was. Most of those things aren’t even tangible but they are most definitely real to me.

I’m still not quite sure where this freelance work is taking me or even if I can keep doing it at such a low level of income. There have been suggestions of offers of work, and I am always on the look out but it might not be sustainable in the long term. I still don’t regret that decision though.


A slightly unplanned trip to the library meant that I ended up with a couple of books, it was as a result of reading the latest newsletter from Joanne McNeil about Michael Seidenberg and the Brazenhead book store. It was the final paragraph of that newsletter:

Read an underread writer this summer in his honor. Any lonely and interesting-looking unfamiliar book at a used bookstore will do.

which prompted me to check-out In The Wet” by Nevil Shute and Uncommon Type” by Tom Hanks on my library card. Now I’m not sure that either of those two books technically qualifies but that paragraph was in my head when I was browsing the stacks and I knew that I hadn’t read a Nevil Shute book for probably close to 20 years, despite reading a lot of them in my late teens and early twenties. The Tom Hanks was one that I knew I would never buy new and possibly not even secondhand, so they both did kinda fit the bill.

Anyway the Nevil Shute was amazing and I remember why I liked him as an author. Probably not the best book of his I’ve read (A Town Like Alice & On The Beach are probably both better known and better books), but it did prompt me to go on a hunt in our loft to drag out some of his books that I have up there and now plan to read.

The Tom Hanks however was, well it was just a bit meh. It had some great blurbs on the cover and maybe it was just me but it just read a bit like it was one of his early movies. It’s a short story collection and I enjoyed a few of them, and there were some nice tricks with how the book is laid out, but just not my cup of tea.

I enjoy popping into the library every so often I seem to always find something that I’ve missed elsewhere or wanted to read, it’s a great resource that has suffered a lot from government austerity measures, so I’m pleased to support it.

I get to go back in the week ahead, return the books I have on loan and see what else they have for me.



After writing last week about reading the Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri I was a little surprised to read his obituary, but interesting comments about the translation of Sicilian.


I finally got around to pickling some of the gherkins from the allotment this week.


Well that’s about all I have for this week. Who knows what’s going to happen in the week ahead, it may even be that it pans out according to plan!

The Insects Are Biting TWTW # 25

This week was the 11th year that I’ve had my current allotment. I was trying to find a photo or two of what it looked like when I took it on, however there seems to be a gap in my photo library around that point – I’m guessing that they’re still on whatever phone I had at the time, and are in our loft. I did however find this short video which was taken around the 26th July that year. Things have certainly changed since then.


As the year clicks past the half-way point, it’s been hot, the insects are biting and it certainly feels like summer. I’ve had no meetings this week, but lots of client work to do and so far I’m on top of it.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve read three books this week (although two of them were rather short). David Hewson’s “Devils Fjord”; Georges Simenon’s “The Flemish House” and Stephen King’s “The Colorado Kid”. They were all good, but I probably enjoyed Devil’s Fjord the most.


The allotment is doing really well despite the heat, we’ve had a really good crop of potatoes and the summer vegetables are starting now. I’ve picked more gooseberries than I can count and I’m planning to make some gooseberry chutney, but for now their in the freezer as I really don’t fancy working in a hot kitchen in this weather to make it, plus I need to get some ingredients. Pickled gherkins are also on the list, which are a little easier to do, just as soon as I get enough to fill a jar or two.


I wrote and linked last week to pieces about Kindle licenses and e-book DRM in general, and then this piece was linked to in Robin Sloan’s excellent newsletter. It isn’t anything new or that I didn’t really know about – although I wasn’t aware of what happened with copies of 1984 and Animal Farm. Kind of ironic that it would be books by George Orwell that it happened too.



How To Grow Your Own Medicine Cabinet.


 

Shaking It Up Some – TWTW # 22

It’s been a busy week that has been changing quite fluidly throughout, not a day passed where what was originally going to happen did actually come to pass. I had meetings and appointments cancelled, a funeral to attend that I hadn’t planned and the weather generally disrupting proceedings throughout like an interrupted cricket match. We got there in the end however, although the knock-on effect is that this week is a little busier than originally planned.


That said, there’s not a tremendous amount to write about. I did make some broad bean falafels, and I read “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin. The former were very tasty and the latter was a reread. I last read the Earthsea series when I was at school, about 11 or 12 years old. It stands up well, and if you are one or know an 11 or 12 year old I’d recommend it.


Much of the news cycle this week has been around the election of a new leader of the conservative party and by default the political leader of our Country – our Prime Minister. From the soundbites it sounds very much like whoever it is they will be putting the needs of their party above those of the Country.


I’ve been listening to Jonny Miller’s new podcast this week. I’m quite selective when adding new podcasts to my feed, as I often don’t manage to listen to all of them each week anyway. Adding a new one is a time commitment that I don’t often have. In this case I’ve listened to the first two episodes and I think I’ll hang around for the next one, and see how it goes.

I’ve also added Joe Minihane’s Floating podcast to my list this week, which I really enjoyed, and although there’s only one episode so far, it’s another one that I’ll keep at least until the next episode.


That’s it for me – hopefully more to talk about next week.

Broad Bean Falafels

img_20190612_140126_355I’ve had a really good year on the allotment with broad beans (fava beans). I overwinter my crop, so plant them in late October or early November and this year I’ve been harvesting since late May and they’re still going strong.

They make a nice vegetable on their own, particularly when they’re young and sweet, and they freeze well, but it is also nice to make other things with them.

I was looking through some of my recipe and gardening books and came across a recipe for broad bean falafels in Alys Fowlers excellent book “Abundance” (affiliate link). Her book is really about storing of produce, but it does contain some excellent recipes too.

I made this video following the recipe in her book, it’s really easy so worth a go yourself.