Friday, 30 December 2011

Write it on your heart ...

Image: Ingrid in Suffolk
This image is going to start my year off as my screen saver.

Why not give 2012 a great start by choosing a photo of a place you love 
and add some good thoughts? 
Or feel free to come with me 
to the Waveney Valley in Suffolk, England and use my image.

I hope the coming year has lots to offer you and wish you a bright future in 2012.

Hope to see you again at this table next year.

Ingrid x

Thursday, 22 December 2011


 Rob Ryan, the amazing papercut artist, has combined with Victorinix to help us all to make some virtual bunting . If you want to send a message go here to create your own.

Thanks Linda for the inspiration.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A window on my wintry world

Apple twigs, 
Lantern houses 
Stuffed geeses
All ingredients helping to make our kitchen ready for Christmas ...
Image:  iPhone in  kitchen 
 My recent visit to Copenhagen had me collecting geese and lanterns. 
The geese are from Maileg and the lanterns from  the lovely Linda, via Walther & co
I just adore these houses, can never have too much grey I say! 
Hope your windows are starting to glow too.

Image:  iPhone in  kitchen 
Image:  iPhone in  kitchen
 Adding a few lichen covered apple tree twiglets 
to some white IKEA flower pots helps set a  minimal backdrop.
Image:  iPhone in  kitchen
Now for some real style:
Houses by Walther & co

 Grey all the way!
Image: Walther & co

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Make your cake and eat it

I've spent the last few weeks avidly reading cookery books, cookery blogs and websites. So much to tempt, so many ingredients to include and ... so little activity on my part.

Take Christmas cakes for example, I wanted to make one myself this year, left it rather late and I still can't decide whose recipe to use.
Eight days ago I made my first move on a Monday and collected together dried fruits from my shopping around world. There were tart cherries bought in Pike Place Market, Seattle (so precious I had not got round to using them for 2 years). Pecans, dates and almonds from Sam's Club in Texas. Juicy currants and raisins from the Co-op in Bungay to add a cosmopolitan mix.
My main recipe sources were Nigella via The Guardian, The River Cafe Cookbook, a treasured gift from Debbie , Bourke Street Bakery and good old Delia - whose much loved recipe has been made for many years in my family.
So I averaged out the weight of fruit these chefs used and added a bit more, because I love those tart cherries, before looking around for some brandy to soak the fruit in. But like Mother Hubbard, my cupboard was bare except for some Pimms No1, left over from summer, and some Sake which we hid in our shipment back from China. Pimms seemed the best option and I glugged in enough No1 to cover the dried fruit. As an insurance, I purchased some brandy the next day and added that too.
How long to soak it? Five weeks, as Bourke Street suggested, was out of the question - Christmas is next week. Overnight seemed the only alternative. Except that I didn't have time to bake on the Tuesday, or the Wednesday and then I flew to Copenhagen on the Thursday. So here I am a week later, back in Suffolk and finally ready to stir into action. I can assure you this is one plumptious, boozy fruity mix.

 So if you have left it late like me, you can still have a go. If the mixture that I spooned into the tin is anything to go by, it is A - May - Zing. ( I am writing this blog whilst it gently bakes, so if the results are no good you may never read this).

A few extras I included, as well as the Pimm's, are dark chocolate, fennel seeds, chopped almonds and pecans and lots of dried tart cherries instead of those awful glace ones.

Christmas cake 2011, Ingrid's version

Dried Fruit
500 g raisins
200g currants
150g dates
150g tart cherries
150g sultanas

  • Add to a saucepan, cover with Pimms No1, fresh orange juice and brandy. Up to you the proportions, but I went heavy on the Pimms. Bring to the boil, switch off the heat and cover the pan and leave. The longer the better, in my case, a week.

Baking day

  • Preheat your oven to 150C/ gas 2 and prepare your baking tins. Grease the tin, and line the base and sides with a double layer of baking parchment. You can tie brown paper round the outside too, which helps the cake to not over brown itself.

300g butter
4 large fresh free range eggs (mine were from Lisa)
2 lemons - grated lemon zest

  • Take the butter and eggs out of the fridge the night before you will mix. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the grated lemon zest of 2 lemons.
4 eggs
2 Tablespoons black treacle or syrup (I forgot to buy treacle)
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add a little plain flour if it starts to curdle like mine did. Then beat in the treacle or syrup and almond extract.
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
250g of almonds chopped finely (or ground almonds)
150g pecans roughly chopped (or walnuts)
150g dark chocolate, 70%, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds, ground roughly (find them in an asian food store)
1 teaspoon almond essence 
  • Sift the flour and spices together, mix with the ground almonds. 
  • Mix the soaked fruit & juices into the egg and butter mixture, alternating with the flour/almond/spice mixture.
  • Fold in the chopped pecans and chocolate.
  • Spoon into the prepared tins, lined with silicone paper and wrapped with brown paper.
  • Into the oven for a minimum of 2 hours. Test with a cake tester, it should come out cleanish.
  • Timing depends on size of tins and depth of mixture. I used a shallow 20cm square tin and a 15cm round cake tin, because that was what I had. But you could use a deeper 20cm square tin and it would take all the mixture and need an extra 30 - 45mins in the oven.
  • Allow the cake to cool in its tin on a cooling rack. Take the cake out when its completely cold and wrap in foil. 
  • Store the wrapped cake in a tin for as long as you can wait, they recommend 3 weeks but mine will be lucky to last one week. In the interests of culinary science I had to cut into it and taste the small one to share with you dear readers.
  • Feeding the cake with extra brandy is possible if you make it well enough in advance but mine rolled out of the tin in a way that just smelt of abundance. So no worries if you don't have time.
Here is the proof of the pudding...
Verdict: scrumptious, bumptious and yumtious. Still warm and not ready to be cut, but the nuts add a richness and the soaked fruit a moistness. Not sure where the chocolate went, but guess it just adds to the richness. I can wholeheartedly recommend you trying this.

    Many Thanks to Nigella, Delia, River Cafe and Bourke Street Bakery for their inspiration in this hybrid cake.

    Come back for the decorating episode sometime later this week.

    Friday, 9 December 2011

    Sprinkle some sparkle

    I'm back again ... in the city that exudes the ultimate in Christmas style, Copenhagen. Happy days.
    Here is a starter for ten!

    Image: Ingrid's iphone

    Take a pair of pears, must be of the Conference variety as all others turn brown, spray them lightly with glue and dust with glitter. Add some candle light and the table comes alive.
    I spotted these beauties at Jette Froehlich's Christmas Exhibition yesterday.

    But don't stop with pears. How about pomegranates or walnuts too? Hyacinths also love to glisten if you add a pinch or two onto the bulb.

    Image: Ingrid's iphone

    Come back soon for more danish inspiration and hygge (cozyness).

    Tuesday, 22 November 2011

    Fizz for the Festive Season

    Nothing better on a damp November day than to think about the warm glow of Christmas and the festive fizz that can make you glow even brighter.
    I came across two delicious drinks to serve our friends and family when perusing my November issue of the Waitrose Food magazine today.

    I feel a Countdown to the Festive Season coming on ...
    Day1    Festive Fizz
    Two drinks to get us started today: Mulled Cider and Sloe Gin Martini.

    Image: Ingrid's iPad with Hipstamatic via Waitrose magazine Nov 11

    If you remember I showed you my sloes here and if you too have a gin mix maturing in your cupboard, this is a marvellous way to use it and treat your guests, who are unlikely to have tried it before (unless they read this blog of course).
    Sloe Martini
    • Mix 80 ml of sloe gin, from your distillery or Waitrose, with 40 ml of sweet vermouth in an ice filled mixing vessel.
    • Strain this into 2 chilled martini glasses, garnish with lemon zest spirals. Serve it over more ice if you want to be really chill.

    Mulled Cider

    Image: Ingrid's iPad with Hipstamatic via Waitrose magazine Nov 11
    • Mix 1 litre of dry cider with 250ml apple juice, 75ml of brandy, 100gram caster sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 8 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, 1 star anise,  zest of 1 orange, 2 cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into chunks. Add all the above into a large saucepan. 
    • Stir over a gentle heat till the sugar is dissolved. Heat slowly until hot, but do not boil.
    • Take the juice of 1/2 a lemon with it's zest and stir this in.
    • Serve in thickish glasses and inhale deeply as you sip. Delicious.
    Thanks to James Ramsden for the recipes via Waitrose Magazine, November 2011.
    (Be sure to check out James' blog, a veritable feast awaits you there)
    Back soon with more ideas to cook up during December.

    Wednesday, 16 November 2011

    Pass the Parsnips please

    Two great things about being back in the Uk are being able to buy parsnips and watch chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Neither Hugh nor parsnips made it to China.

    So to celebrate one of my favourite cookbooks of this year;

    here is Hugh's recipe for Parsnip and Ginger soup.
    I made it for lunch today, perfect if it's feeling nippy in your neck of the woods.

    Image: Ingrid at her table

    Parsnip and Ginger Soup
    500g parsnips, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
    5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
    Spices: 1/4 teaspoon of each- ground cumin, cayenne pepper
    4 whole cardamom pods (or 1/4 teaspoon group cardamom)
    800ml of vegetable stock ( I cheated and used Marigold vegetarian stock powder)
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    15g butter
    up to 200ml of whole milk
    Sea salt and black pepper

    Let's get cooking:

    1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a saucepan and sauté the chopped onion for about 10 mins, medium low heat.
    2. Add garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne and cardamom pods, stir for a couple of mins.
    3. Add the chopped parsnips, swirl them around in the mix to coat with spices.
    4. Pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper and simmer on a low heat for 15 mins, till the parsnips are very tender.
    5. Cool the soup slightly and fish out the cardamom pods NOW. (It's too late once the blender gets going)
    6. Puree till smooth with a food processor or stick blender.
    7. Add some milk and taste for seasoning readjustments.
    8. Warm soup gently through.
    9. Take 2-3 tablespoons of almond slivers or pumpkin seeds (or both, as I did). Toast them in a dry frying pan (no oil) until just turning golden . Do not leave them for 1 second.
    10. Warm your soup bowls, add the soup, swirl in a bit of yoghurt or cream and scatter the toasties over the top. Grind again with black pepper and you are in for a treat.
    PS. Did anyone notice I am slipping behind with my promised 3 blogs a week? Phew well that's a relief.
    Maybe this soup will help me warm up my post production.
    Be back soon.

    Wednesday, 9 November 2011

    Loafing around

    Actually I've been quite busy kneading away in North Norfolk.

    Do you remember my long-winded attempt to create my own sour dough?
    There had to be an easier way, so ..... I decided the best thing was to join Virtuous Bread for a one-day course in north Norfolk. What a lot I learned.
    Rosie, our fab teacher, is in action below creating her wonderful artisan bread (which if you're living in London will set you back £4 a loaf).

    Anyone interested in getting stuck in to some dough work should definitely contact her.
    Among the many things I discovered, there is nothing like getting your hands covered in wet rye dough to really understand what making sourdough is all about.

     My fridge now has 3 different pots of gloop, so I'm never going to be stuck for a starter. They have varied characteristics, ranging in age from 1851, through to 2000 and my very own 2011 vintage.
    "Beer and bread are the midwives of civilisation"
    There are more than just crumbs on offer at this particular table!

    Friday, 4 November 2011

    What if .........?

    What if you feel like you are stuck in a rut?

    Leo at Zen Habits has written a great post on "The Rut, & the Way Out"
    This left me asking myself a few "What if?" questions this morning in bed & provided some much needed momentum.

    Sometimes I have such a lack of motivation that lethargy just takes over. 
    Setting goals etc is ineffective, telling myself to shake up doesn't work and all I can see is the mountain of things to do. 
    Leo has a great starting point if you are at this same spot with me.
    Ask yourself a few "What if?" questions. 
    No action required just ask the the question.
     I tried that in bed at 6am today and these were my posers:
    1. What if I decided to write in my journal every day for the rest of this month? Yes, I want to do this, I want to get back to writing creatively. No excuses. See I am doing this as I sit here.
    2. What if I sew one stitch (minimum) everyday? I cleared my sewing table yesterday, so it's all set.
    3. What if I did 5 minutes yoga every morning? Well, that is a bit more radical for me ... but I like the thought and it doesn't mean I have to do headstands.
    Leo goes on to ask more scary "What if's?" such as:
    "What if your life was a blank slate and you could fill it with only things you love?" and "What if you tossed out all your excuses?" and "What if you tossed out your to do list and only did one important thing each day before doing less important tasks?"
    I find it helps being invited to think differently about my set ways.

    If you want to go further, you should announce a major challenge. Just announce it.
    Here goes:
     "I am going to challenge myself, Ingrid, to write and publish 3 blog posts a week for the next month."                                                                                  You'll know if I keep to it!

    Saying it aloud creates a momentum and I feel committed.
    Here is the blog that proves it - if you saw all the draft blogs I half write and never get round to publishing, you'd know how easy it is for me to leave things unfinished!

    Hope you read Leo's post and hope it helps if you, too, are in a dip.
    Me? I'm off to do 5 minutes yoga, no time like the present. Maybe later sew something for the table ... after all that is what this blog is supposed to be about.

    Wednesday, 26 October 2011

    D.I.Y. Garnish

    Sipping a well deserved cappucchino at Carluccio's the other day, after a long walk on Hampstead Heath, I clocked the simple table decor of terracotta pots of coriander and rosemary.
    Image: Ingrid's iPhone
    It is a simply brilliant idea for the table at home ... D.I.Y. Garnish.
    Family and guests simply nip or snip off as much of the herbs as they desire and add straight to their own dish. Could anything be easier or tastier?
    Just pick up a couple of herbs in the supermarket and add them to pots, terracotta or otherwise and you are all set.
    After the meal you may want to move the herbs to a windowsill for a dose of sunshine, if sun's rays do not stretch as far as your table. Of course all living plants need water too - obvious but strange how many times I seem to forget this basic fact!

    Herbs for the table: coriander (cilantro to some), chives, rosemary, french parsley or oregano for starters.

    Mosaic made with images from Martha
    For a bit of fun add a little felt bird  or mouse!
    But best to keep these herb pots inside if you don't want an unwelcome snail at your table.

    Monday, 10 October 2011

    Bringing home the Bacon

    Let me take you on a little trip, through the narrow country lanes of mid Suffolk, to a shop that is almost good enough to eat.
     Our destination: Emmett's of Peasenhall.

    Although it was my first visit, plenty of esteemed foodies like Rick Stein, Delia Smith and the late Queen Mother, no less, have extolled the merits of the delicious hams and bacons available here. Whether it is black cure, mild cure, orange cure or Christmas cure - all the pork comes from pigs that are reared outdoors, on one of four local Suffolk farms, and cured in-house. 
    In fact, Emmett's have been curing hams and bacon on the premises for more than 200 years.

    If you are not in the neighbourhood, don’t despair - the online shop will help you bring home the bacon with just a few clicks.

    But ... be sure there is nothing to replicate the sensory delights of walking over the threshold of this quintessential English food shop. 
    The tasting table that greets you is set with delicious tapenades, aromatic olive oils and chutneys to spice up your life. 
    As we ventured further, we were in raptures over the giant 3kg slabs of chocolate - tasting it ensured  a sensible small piece made it home - had to leave the mega slab for another time.

    But ... bacon was what we had come for and our sampler packs of lardons, sweet cure bacon and Suffolk ham have convinced us that from now on, Emmett’s is our default bacon source. I challenge anyone to not taste the difference, whether it is in a quiche lorraine with lardons or a sourdough bacon sandwich (both of which I cooked for the family in the days that followed)

    Be sure to allow time to sample the lunch menu on offer in Emmett's cafe - our Suffolk ploughman’s platter was delicious and introduced us to the heavenly date and lime pickle, from Sri Lanka no less. The enormous Emmett’s salad was bounteous and filled with every goody from the deli - ham, nectarine slices, olives, garlics, artichokes and fresh salad greens. (Good choice Alice and Astrid!) 

    My Favourite buys:
    ~ Bacon lardons for your quiches, macaroni carbonara and soups for starters
    ~ Date and lime pickle for adding spice and zest to any cold plate
    ~ Promise you will not leave without indulging yourself with a small large piece of chocolate - up to you whether you plump for dark, milk or ginger filled.
    Meeting Mark Thomas, the passionate owner and bacon guru, at the end of our visit was a special treat. Next time he has promised to show us the smokehouse where all the curing and smoking action happens.
    With Christmas on the horizon you can order hampers or sampler packs as delicious gifts to make yourself or someone else  very happy. Or maybe drop a hint to someone close to you about your Christmas stocking this year!
    Click here to view Emmett's catalogue

    Thursday, 6 October 2011

    Remembering Steve

    Image: Getty Images
    "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."
    Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

    Steve Jobs and Apple have had a huge impact on my life. From the first time I used a Mac computer back in 1992 I was a devotee. Starting with a LC computer and a memory of 40 megabytes, our basket of Apple's has grown and enriched our lives. 
    Thanks Steve for all the creative possibilities you have brought to our family. 

    If you have time do listen to Steve's 2005 commencement speech at Stanford - it says so much about the man and how he made a difference.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    Four weeks to make a loaf

    Ever thought about making sour dough bread?

    It is a whole year since I bought the delectable Bourke Street Bakery recipe book, but the many pages of instructions on how to make a sour dough starter left me a non-starter. In my naiveté, I had imagined the stages would be: buy the book, make a yeasty mix, wait a couple of days and then have sour dough bread for ever more. How wrong I was!

    Always on the look-out for a shortcut, I searched in earnest for a starter that I could buy instead of the four week long slog involved in creating a sour dough from scratch.

    If I lived in the US, it would have been easy to spend $12 and have a starter mailed to me, but here in the UK I found just one vendor, and their website said they were on holiday for 3 weeks and could not send starter dough out till September.

    Being impetuous,  I reached for the Bourke Street Bakery book again and decided that it couldn't be that difficult, so why not give it a go.
    To cut a long story short, that was 4 weeks ago.

    After an "intensive pregnancy", during which my sour dough grew vigorously, it finally gave birth to triplets. Making their debut... my home baked, Suffolk sour dough loaves.
    Image: Ingrid's iphone
    The unbiased verdict of the extended family and friends was a reassuring "delicious".

    But I am still shell-shocked at how much work was involved. It's like feeding the dog: done daily or else there are complaints.

    Image: Ingrid with iPhone and Strip designer
    Back in August I started with one bowl, a packet of organic flour and filtered water.
    Now, four weeks later I have loaves, a four-week old wild yeast starter begging to be fed and a family waiting for a new loaf.
    If anyone is keen to try this for themselves I can supply the starter but you will had to come and collect it!

    The basic principle is that by mixing strong flour and water together you can capture wild yeasts that are floating around in the air. Having captured your wild yeasts, you need to feed them daily with more flour and water.
    This will double the size of your mix EVERY day. So after four days you either have to bin the excess or make sour dough pancakes (which are delicious).

    This process is repeated on a daily basis for THREE weeks. After two weeks I nearly got in the bin...
    And just when my flour was running low, I realised that the "greedy monster" had to be fed three times on the final day to make it strong enough to raise the dough.

    Four hours after the last feed, it had to be knocked down, then placed in a fridge for 12 hours to retard it before taking it out and activating it again. Poor dough didn't know whether it was coming or going ... and neither did the baker.

    The upshot is I have decided to go on a one-day course at The Virtuous Bread - there has to be an easier way to get my sour dough started!

    If you have baked with sour dough and have any tips for a novice, I would love to hear from you!

    Thursday, 15 September 2011

    Best cupcakes ever

    If you can't watch BBC television - you are missing a real treat. In fact I would venture to say, "You are missing the best show ever"...The Great British Bake Off.
    I am so happy to be in England now that Series 2 is showing. 

    To ease the distress of having to wait one whole week for the next episode, we started searching online for ways to keep baking feeling going. 
    The Bakewell tart cupcake recipe ticked all the boxes for our first attempt from the BBC website.
    Holly Bell inspired us to try her recipe, albeit our way - with less than perfect icing (sorry Holly).
    Holly and Janet are my favourite contestants - hope they stay in till the final.

    It was love at first taste. 
    These Bakewell tart cupcakes are the easiest and tastiest we have ever made.

     Alice and Louise carefully scooped out a little hole in the centre, to be able to drop a tiny dollop of raspberry jam. Tilly was on hand to eat every little crumb that was removed - and let them know if they were not quick enough to supply her.

    Twelve cupcakes quickly disappeared

    Here is Holly's recipe with a couple of changes :

    Raspberry Bakewell Tart Cupcakes
    The mix:
    75g margarine - at room temp
    75g butter- at room temp
    150g caster sugar
    100g self-raising flour
    3 free range eggs- at room temp
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    60g ground almonds
    1 Tbsp milk

    After baking:
    good quality raspberry jam

    200g icing sugar
    2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
    12 raspberries

    How to:

    1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Use paper cases in a 12 hole muffin tin.
    2. Cream the margarine and butter in a bowl till light and fluffy. (I thought this was a typo as I always have creamed butter and sugar together first - but now I think this makes the cupcakes extra light)
    3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well until combined
    4. Spoon the mixture into the cases - just half full. Bake for 15-20 mins. They will be golden brown and when tested with cake skewer, it comes out clean when they are ready.
    5. Remove from oven, cool on a wire tray and try to resist for 10 minutes.
    6. Use an apple corer and a tiny teaspoon to carefully remove a plug from the centre of each cupcake. Fill the hole with good raspberry jam.
    7. Make the icing by sifting icing sugar into a bowl and stirring in the lemon juice. Carefully spoon it onto the top of each cake and try to cover the top of each cupcake neatly. (I failed to do this to Holly's standards, but will try harder next time)
    8. Add a fresh raspberry onto the centre of each cupcake and enjoy!

    Info for other GBBO junkies:
    Be sure to read Red, Red's blog on cupcakes.
    For info on the contestants: Maison Cupcake
    Holly's blog
    Mary-Anne's blog
    Jo's blog
    BBC food blog
    Miranda (from series1)
    Jason's blog

    Need the book?
    Available at Amazon

    Want to watch the show from outside the UK? Find the link here

    Let me know if you get hooked on it too.

    Sunday, 11 September 2011

    Sloe Pickings

    The hedgerows around our house are offering us the double pleasure of blackberries and sloes at the moment. 

    Don't let these blueberry lookalikes fool you - they are not something to pick and eat from the bush... far too bitter.
     But if you happen to have a litre of gin going begging, then it is simple to make a delicious liqueur with sloes. If you start now, you can be ready to serve at Christmas. 

    Image: Ingrid
    1. Pick approx 500g of sloes from mid September through to October. Wash them.
    2. Prick each sloe a couple of times with a needle. (This lets the juices out and the gin in.)
    3. Find a glass jug or jar (which holds in excess of 1 litre)
    4. Add the sloes, 220g of caster sugar and 1 litre of gin.
    5. Stir/shake well and cover.
    6. Leave in a dark place and shake/stir every other day for one week.
    7. Now just shake once a week for 2 months.
    8. Strain the liquid through a muslin cloth and pour into a sterilised bottle. 
    Some people recommend leaving the sloe gin for a year but I don't have that much patience.
    Christmas 2011 will hopefully see this on our table. You are welcome to drop by if you're passing.
    Maybe I'll get another litre soaking in October and keep that for next year.

    Image: Ingrid
    Sloe Facts:
    Sloes grow on the blackthorn bush, and are found in Europe, New Zealand and eastern North America
    The fruits are best picked in late September and October, especially after the first frost. 

    Image: Ingrid

    Hope you can find some sloes to marinate or a local fruit to create a delicious tipple for the winter months. Love to hear if you do anything similar in your part of the world.

    Thursday, 8 September 2011

    I don't want to force you ...

    But now is the time for action if, like me, you love to have hyacinths blooming on your windowsill in the middle of winter.

    Images: IKEAAbsolutely WhiteAnetteshus, Sad Ferret

    Reading the autumn edition of Sarah Raven's inspiring garden catalogue made me realise that mid September is the deadline for forcing some hyacinth bulbs of my own.
    In the past I just bought the hyacinth plants in winter and had one or two on my windowsill.

    This year I am thinking abundance, and abundance hyacinth-buying in December is expensive. Hence the bulb catalogues and the haste to order.
    Actually we only have to rush if we want them flowering at Christmas, as it takes 14 weeks to get your dormant bulb into flower.

    I really love the way a few hyacinths on your windows in January bring colour and scent to the house once the Christmas decorations are put away.

    If you want to try a little forcing along with me, these are the basics:

    1. Order bulbs from catalogue or buy from garden centre.                                                                        I recommend Sarah Raven and Peter Nyssen for fellow Brit readers. (I love the photos in Sarah's and the prices in Peter's!)
    2. Use special bulb fibre to fill your container about three quarters full. You can also grow the bulbs without fibre, in a special glass vase filled with water.
    3. Place the hyacinth bulbs in individual pots or closely together in a larger pot.
    4. Add  enough bulb fibre to barely cover the top of the bulb and water the pot.
    5. Pre-chilling: Now your pots need to be chilled for 12 weeks at a temperature under 40F / 5C ...but above freezing! You can do this in a fridge - but if you are going for abundance like me, this is a non starter. They are best in a cool, dark garage or shed. 
    6. Forcing: After 12 weeks bring the pots inside for blooming. First, water thoroughly and then keep them in a COOL place for 2 weeks. (No worries if it is not very light at this point). Just don't over water.
    7. When the shoots are 4-6 inches (10-15cm), move the bulbs to a slightly warmer and lighter place. Best to force slowly rather than shock them with a blast of heat. 
    8. After blooming, the bulb cannot be forced again next year. Either add to the compost heap or tenderly nurture it and plant in the garden in autumn.
    Read more here and here to get the full story of forcing a hyacinth to bloom.
    Image: Sad Ferret
    I'm off now to get ordering, I going to be all white this year. Maybe there will even be one in a tea cup.

    Monday, 22 August 2011

    What can I do with a marrow?

    Ever asked the question "What can I do with a marrow?"?
    Translation for the USA "What can I do with a summer squash?"

    My answer is "Stuff it!"

    Marrows are like London busses, one minute your garden is barren and the next minute there are loads of them coming along.
    Yesterday I stuffed my first one and it was rather tasty, if I say so myself.
    In case you feel tempted to stuff one yourself, this is how I did it.

    Stuffed Marrow with Chorizo and Couscous

    1 large marrow (summer squash)
    100g chorizo sausage, sliced and chopped
    1 red onion
    mushrooms, chopped - 3 big ones or more smaller
    1 cup of dry couscous
    1 lemon - juiced
    1 red pepper, chopped small
    2 red vine tomatoes, chopped
    big handful of fresh parsley
    clove of fresh garlic, squashed
    grated cheese for topping
    2TBsp extra virgin olive oil
    a bit of spice e.g. Ras el hanout or paprika


    1. Preheat oven to 200C/ 390F/Gas 6
    2. Cut the marrow in half lengthways. Peel the skin off and scoop out all the seeds and pith from centre (discard). Sprinkle salt over the marrow and leave for half an hour. This draws out any bitter juices from your marrow. After half an hour rinse the salt off the marrow and pat dry.
    3. Add the cup of dry couscous to a medium/large bowl, pour over the juice of one lemon and then add enough boiling water to just cover the couscous. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave until all the liquid is absorbed.
    4. Chop the onion up small and add it together with the chopped chorizo to your large fry pan in which you have heated about 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Fry for a few mins till the onion is softened but not brown.
    5. Add the chopped red pepper, tomato and garlic and fry for a couple of mins and then add the mushrooms frying for a couple more mins. Take off the heat.
    6. Once the couscous has absorbed the liquid, fork it over lightly and add the fried chorizo/vegetable mixture to the bowl too. Add a large handful of chopped parsley and a little of a spice that you fancy. I had some Ras el hanout to hand (Moroccan spice mix) but could have added a dash of paprika or cumin. Experiment!
    7. Lay your two marrow halves in an oven proof dish and fill both halves with all the mixture. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top of each half and pop into the oven at 200C. I prefer to cover mine with foil for 20 mins and then take the foil away and leave it to brown nicely for another 15-20 mins.
    8. No two marrows are the same, so you need to test the marrow with a sharp knife to judge how long to cook it. The flesh should be soft but firm. It took longer than I expected so don't be taking it out too soon and blaming me because you ended up eating raw marrow!
    Serve this with a nice green salad and some crusty bread and you have enough to feed 4 gannets or up to 8 with modest appetites.
    Variations: add feta cheese, pine nuts, chopped fennel bulb, raisins, chopped apricots, mix up the herbs with mint, oregano and basil. So many possibilities to be adventurous with.

    Love to know if you try it and like it.
    Thanks AWT at the BBC for the inspiration. 
    Even though in his photo you can see the marrow in raw and unpeeled! 

    Friday, 5 August 2011

    Early Morning

    Just wanted to share with you the beautiful morning that has dawned here in Suffolk.
    Hipstamatic on Ingrid's iPhone

    It is starting to feel like home now.
    One container emptied this week and the next one is due on Monday.
    Maybe you can spot some touches of China starting to appear 
    as we empty the 500+ boxes - only 400+ to go!

    I'd best put away the iPhone and computer and get stuck into the next box!

    Thursday, 28 July 2011

    Find your support...

    “No one ever got anywhere by themselves. Find your support and keep them close.”

    Some of my support team

    This quote jumped out at me today from the inspiring writing of Scott's blog. It seemed to be a good reminder at this sad time that there are many people supporting each of us, when we need it most.
     When the going get's tough it feels instinctive to hide one's self away or become so busy with life's details. Either way, there's a reluctance to make contact with friends and family. 
    When life deals us challenges the only way is to move forward and to move anywhere at all can be very challenging.

     So this is going to be my mantra for now... "Find my supports and keep them close".

    How do we find our support? 
    • We let people know that we need support
    • We start to find a direction we want to go in
    • We take a first step
    • We look around and recognise who makes contact with us
    • We take another step
    • Gradually we find we are moving in a new direction.
    Remember we don't need to know our final destination, it's the journey and who we meet along the way that count.

    Thank you for all the kind words of support since my mother died, it has really helped. I appreciate the kindness of both friends, passers by and strangers, who are just friends I have yet to meet.

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