Thursday, 27 January 2011

Dreaming of summer whilst placing my 2011 seed order

I made a leek, kale (both off the plot) and potato soup and Nigella's chocolate chip cookies on Thursday night.

Then on Friday morning I made a rice pudding, because I had a pint of gold top milk to use up.  So that was Friday's evening meal sorted, as I never have much time to cook on Fridays anymore due to volunteering at the shop.  Which is a shame, as I enjoyed cleaning the house all day, then cooking up a wholesome meal and pudding.  It made me feel quite housewifey, which was nice.

I went to the shop's first Business and Finance sub-group meeting on Friday afternoon, I wasn't really looking forward to the meeting as I thought it was going to be very serious but it was OK.  I volunteered to be on the group because I'd like to learn more about financial monitoring and planning and putting together funding applications.  We also discussed placing monthly bulk wholefood orders, for people who use large quantities of lentils etc (not me - yet!).

I nipped into the wool shop and bought some more braid at 40p a bundle.

I also bought some more fabric off the market.

Steve's been enjoying sleeping on my fabric stash.

It was my friend Emma's birthday on Saturday and we met up and went for a curry.  I ordered a chicken tikka garlic chilli curry.  I'd finished the curry and I thought I'd eat half a chilli just to see how hot it was.  Well, it was the hottest chilli I've ever had and it completely blew my head off!  I thought I was going to embarrass myself by not being able to handle it, I had to keep swilling water around my mouth and hoping no one would notice!  It was unbearably hot!  The rest of the food was really tasty though.

For Emma's birthday present we bought her a tomato greenhouse and seeds, a chocolate Faith in Nature gift set, some Landlife teasle seeds and some healing incense.  I also made her a tote bag and Chris made her a wooden box.  I baked Mary Berry's best ever chocolate fudge cake (great recipe) for Emma's birthday cake and Chris iced it.

For the rest of the weekend I pretty much chilled out and didn't do much other than my seed orders.

I've ordered seeds for all the chillies recommended by Thomasina Miers in her Mexican Food Made Simple cookbook.

We've already got the free Serrano chilli seeds that our friends Andrea and Dan got from Thomasina's Mexican restaurant Wahaca (did I mention I'm vaguely related to Thomasina, my brother in law is her cousin).  I'm especially looking forward to growing the Ancho Poblan chillies, as I haven't been able to get dried ones anywhere and they're referenced in lots of Mexican recipes, and I also ordered some Chill de Arbol seeds.  I got the chilli seeds off Nicky's Nursery's website.  Seeing as I was placing an order I also ordered some other seeds, including spearmint to make tea with, some honesty seeds and some dog violet seeds.  Jenny (my allotment neighbour) grows honesty on her plot and I'm always envious of the circular dried seed pods the plant produces.  I spotted dog violet growing wild down the allotment last year, and I loved how pretty and delicate it looked.

I also placed a seed order with Thompson and Morgan.  I got some more Sungold tomato seeds as these were by far the best tomato variety I grew last year.  In fact, I think I'd be quite happy with a greenhouse solely full of Sungold seeing as they tasted so delicious, and COMPLETELY different to shop bought tomatoes.  I also ordered some Rosado tomato seeds and Cucino cucumber seeds, an all female F1 variety that produce mini cukes suitable for small families, both which were recommended on Gardener's World last year.  I would never grow a non-all female cucumber again, as it was lots of faff last year pulling off the male flowers, especially as cucumbers grow like triffids when planted in the greenhouse border soil.  They're prickly plants too, so the less handling you have to do the better.  Last year I must have missed pulling off some male flowers and a few cucumbers were bitter. I also ordered some trailing viola and some chilli Padron (Spanish tapas chilli, which can be grilled and served with salt.  Apparently they're mostly mild, but 1 in 10 chillies will be firey hot, adding a Russian roulette element to the dish).  I got a voucher for £5 to spend on Thompson and Morgan seeds but when I tried to use the voucher on their website it wouldn't work.  So I emailed Thomposon and Morgan to let them know the £5 voucher didn't work.  I also complained about the poor performance of three varieties of their seeds that I sowed last year - viola sweeties, heliotrope dwarf marine and narsturtium cobra. They got back to my email straight away to say sorry, and issued me a £5 refund and said they would send me replacements for the 3 packs of seeds that didn't do well.  So I thought that was nice of them. Hopefully the seeds will perform better this year.  I did manage to get one heliotrope plant last year and it smelt gorgeously like cherry pie.  One plant isn't enough though, I need a whole army of them making my garden smell like cherry pie.

Chris went into Wilkinson's and got me a 6 pack tomato seed collection by Johnsons.  Keith sowed these last year and he had some amazing and impressive looking tomatoes in his polytunnel.  The 6 pack cost £3.99, but I didn't think it was too bad for 6 types of seeds.

I also ordered some seeds off DT Brown.  I ordered a calendula mix, some pot marigold, and a basil mix.  I'll plant these amongst the tomatoes.  The basil will be nice to eat with the toms, and the marigold/calendulas will help to attract beneficial insects and hopefully keep away whiteflies.  I got some rainbox mix chrysanthemums and some petit pois seeds, as Chris said he loves petit pois.   I also got some habanero seeds and some chocolate tomato seeds, which I couldn't resist because you can't get them in the shops and they're apparently full of anti-oxidants.

And that was that for online seed ordering.  I'll probably need to pick up a few more seeds from Wilkinsons, but I've still got 3 tubs full of  seeds to use up from last year.  My seed stash is pretty impressive/obsessive.

This year I'm trying to grow things that you can't buy in the shops, or that are very expensive to buy, for example rhubarb.  I'm really looking forward to being able to crop the rhubarb we planted last year.  Last year we could only pick a small amount, to give the crowns chance to settle in, but this year we can pick as much as we like.  The baby rhubarb shoots have already started to appear, little pink stems with a green leaf on top.  I love rhubarb crumble and I might make rhubarb jam this year.  Rhubarb is meant to be very good at flushing out toxins from your system, and I like to drink the juice after it's been stewed.  My mum always saved me the stewed warm apple and rhubarb juice when I was little.

I want to try and make the garden easier to manage this year and I don't want to waste time and effort growing things we won't eat.  I need to keep things low maintenance.  Some crops (e.g. brassicas) were lots of work last year, and I wasn't over keen on the end result.  Things like sweet pea are gorgeous, and it wouldn't be summer without them, but a full fence takes lots of maintenance picking flowers (especially when I can't access part of the fence and have to lean over a flower border without falling into it).  Pansies and violas are great but they need to be deheaded or else they stop flowering and go to seed.  So I just need to be more clever about what I plant and where I plant it.

I know not to sow seeds too early this year, or else you end up with a greenhouse full of tender plants that all need planting out, but you can't plant them outside because the risk of frost hasn't passed.  I also know which seeds grow quickly (e.g. runner beans and squash grow like wildfire) and which seeds grow slowly (e.g. chillies and aubergine need to go in very early in order to get a long cropping season before the autumn frosts arrive), so this will be a big help when scheduling this year's seed sowing.  I also need to sow seeds direct into the soil this year, as that saves a lot of repotting later on.  If you follow this blog I'll give you a blow by blow account of all the seeds I'm sowing, so you can follow along if you need help with your planting schedule.  Please also feel free to ask me any questions.

I take back everything I said about liking winter.  I wish it was summer all year.  I miss the colourful flowers and scents, late summer evenings, al fresco dining and picnics, and bright summer mornings.  I long to wear (homemade) skirts and sandles and strappy tops and no coat.  I want to feel the hot sun burn my skin.  OK, the burden of watering, weeding, feeding and deheading remains, but it's a pleasant burden, and it gives me an excuse to be outside in the fresh air.  I hope we get a nice hot summer (with no hosepipe ban like last year).

Thursday, 20 January 2011

I want to be the girl with the most cake

On Saturday I popped into town and ventured to a wool shop I normally avoid because the lady behind the counter is a bit pushy.  In the past I’ve gone in for a ball of black wool, and walked out with lilac glittery mohair.  But I was glad I went in the shop because she had baskets full of bundles of braid for only 40p each.  I bought 9 bundles, then got home and wished I'd bought more.  A simple strip of braid trim can really transform a plain top into something special. 

Seeing as I was in town I went to Manning's (again, I know, it's getting to be a bit of an addiction at the minute) and bought a large chocolate sandwich cake with jam and fresh cream inside. 

It pretty much rained all weekend so I stayed inside.

I made my friend Emma a bag for her birthday using my new sewing machine.

I also made myself a quick headband.

On Sunday afternoon I braved the rain and nipped to the allotment.  The lock on the allotment gate broke in the cold weather, so I got in touch with the council and they came up and fitted a new one.

I picked some lovely leeks and kale, and a few mouldy sprouts.  

I’m not sure if I’ll bother growing many brassicas this year.  They’re a lot of hassle and I’m not a massive fan.  Although I’ll definitely grow curly kale again, as it’s very pretty, hardy and a good source of greens in the dark months of December, January and February, plus the pests don’t seem to hassle it much.

I’ve signed up for a permaculture course!  It’s one day a month for 12 months, with the option to do a further year of practical study leading to a diploma in permaculture.  I’m really pleased I found out about the course.  I’ve been looking for a local and affordable permaculture course for over a year now.  The people who’ve already done the course have given it some excellent reviews and the tutor seems very well qualified.  It starts in February.

I’ve also signed up to a dressmaking course, which is also once a month on a Saturday and starts in March.  In the first lesson we’re making a skirt.

We had some relatives over from Ireland last night and we went out for a meal to a local Italian restaurant.  Thankfully, I only had 2 glasses of wine, so I managed to escape a hang over at work.

I’ve been a regular subscriber to the Urban Dictionary word of the day email for a couple of years.  But I unsubscribed today.  The words have been rubbish recently, all about Facebook and TV programmes I don’t watch.

I’m getting into my Google Reader account, I’ve set it up with some good feeds, and I’ve already found some interesting articles through using it.

I'm still buying lots of books, and I've a growing pile of recent purchases that need filing on my bookshelves.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

My first cushion goes well sew there's no stopping me now!

(Sorry for the awful sewing pun, I couldn't help myself.)

I worked in the shop on Friday morning as we had a board meeting at 9am, so it made sense to stay and do a morning shift rather than go home and come back in the afternoon.  I came up with some wording for some new shelf labels.  Once I'd finished I went to Manning's bakery and got a cheese pie, a corned beef and potato pie and a vienesse and a quarter of an iced jam sponge cake.  They were all super delicious, especially the vienesse!

The two sewing books that I ordered off Amazon arrived.  I got the Sewing Book

and Sewing Machine Basics.

The Sewing Book is very comprehensive and features photographic step by step examples of different techniques, but the Sewing Machine Basics focusses more on projects you can make and includes some paper patterns at the back that you can pull out.

I made my first cushion at weekend following the instructions in the Sewing Machine Basics book.  I'm really pleased with it, and it doesn't look home made at all.  I'm finding the sewing machine surprisingly easy to use, and I even threaded a bobbin really quickly.

I spotted lots of moomin fabric on Etsy.

We nipped into town on Saturday afternoon and I got 2 Simplicity sewing patterns from a charity shop for only 20p each.  We went to Manning's bakery (again!) and I got a cheese and onion pastie, Chris got the corned beef and potato pie and we got a large family sized custard for heating up and eating warm later on.  I also went to the sewing stall and got a seam ripper and some ric rac.  I never knew it was called ric rac but I love it.  It's great for adding a contrasting colour to an item.

On Saturday night I watched a film called the Kite Runner which was really good, and one of the better films I've watched recently.  I thought Hassan was a sweet little boy.  It reminded me of an Iranian film I watched called 'Where is my friend's house?', which was a fantastic film, but I can't seem to find it on DVD.

On Sunday we went to the flea market, but I didn't buy anything as there weren't many stalls on this week.  I was hoping to find some sewing goodies.

I finished off the thank you cards and got them in the post.  I bought some silver 'thank you' stickers from the craft shop.

Unfortunately I've not much motivation to do things at the moment.  I need to give myself a kick start after having a lazy Christmas holiday.  I think energy breeds energy.  So the more you do the more energy you have.  And vice versa, the less you do the less energy you have.

I'm trying to remember not to take on too much this year, especially as the gardening season is approaching.  I'd like to develop my dressmaking skills and make lots of flowery dresses and skirts for summer, really long ones, ones that no one else will have.  I wonder if I can achieve this, or whether it will be too hard?  Surely it can't be that hard?  But I do worry that I'm not the creative type.  I wish I knew what I was good at and then I could concentrate on doing that. And in my career, I wish I was trained and skilled to do a certain profession, like seamstress or electrician, it must be good to actually be something. 

Anyway, I need to stick to doing what's priority.  It's also important for me this year to do new things, because if you keep doing the same things you'll get the same results, and I want new results.  I definitely, definitely need to do more exercise.  I need to eat better and drink more water.  I'd like to drop a day at work to free me up to do productive things, but first I need to decide if I can afford to drop a day or whether this would make things tricky financially.  I also need to save money for a holiday, and be more thrifty in general. 

I was thinking the other day how I'd like a cool classic car like an old mercedes or an old jag, black with black leather seats.  My sister used to drive an ace convertible classic black merc, it was sooooo cool.  I'd also love a better and bigger house, with a garden that feels private.  I just wonder how we'll be able to afford this?  I need to do something other than just working 9-5, I need to show some initiative, become an entrepreneur, think of new ways to make money.  Maybe I could have a go at screenwriting, or a concept for a film?  I always wanted to be a playwright when I was at school.  But the writing would have to come from deep inside me, it would have to be something I felt passionately about.  I guess I've got plenty of things I could write about, I'd like to make a point through my writing, and inspire people to think differently.

At work we were all given 90 day's notice that our jobs could be at risk of redundancy.  Which means, come May, I might be out of a job.  Which wouldn't be good financially, but it could open different doors for me and force me to do different things with my life.  Deep down, I don't really like going to work, but I've got bills to pay.  A self-sufficient lifestyle seems like a great idea to me, perhaps I'm not being entirely realistic because I know it would be really hard work, and it's not an easy option, but it's how we were meant to live, in touch with the land and the seasons.

Finally, I went to the market today and bought lots of fabric.  I got it all for about £17.  I also bought myself some proper dressmaking scissors.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Making the most of the holidays and guilt free lie-ins

Happy New Year!  I've been enjoying having some time off work, doing nothing in particular and recharging my batteries.

We've been watching plenty of new films, but despite having high hopes for lots of them, most of them weren’t that impressive.  Catfish had been highly recommended by a few people, but everyone said ‘don't look it up online first or you'll spoil it’.  I wish I had looked it up online, because I wouldn't have watched it if I'd known how boring it was going to be.  I guess if you use Facebook/Twitter and talk to strangers it might open your eyes to the fact that some people aren't quite what they seem online, but come on, surely we didn't need a film to point that out?  We also watched Kick Ass which didn't impress me much, despite getting some glowing reviews.  Waitress was OK, lots of nice pies, but not amazing.  Inception was confusing and over complicated, maybe because I was half asleep.  We watched Nowhere Boy about the young John Lennon, which was alright, but nothing worth writing home about. 

Whatever happened to decent films?  Hollywood seems to be pumping out films without coming up with a good story first.  Come on, it can't be that hard, can it? 

I haven't watched Leaves of Grass yet.  I'm still hoping for a UK cinema release.  That's one film I know won't be a let down, so I'm saving it a little longer.   I did watch Death to Smoochy whilst doing my Christmas wrapping, and it was as good as ever.  I also watched Lost Boys, which surprisingly I'd never seen before, but I thought it was a cool film.  I'm also looking forward to Mike Leigh's Another Year, which I'm sure won't be a let down, but who knows?  Maybe I've got an odd taste in films.

On Tuesday I noticed one of my car tyres was completely flat so I had it replaced and whilst I was in town I nipped into a traditional cake shop called Manning's and and I bought a quarter of a cake.  My Grandma used to buy cakes from Manning's on a Saturday afternoon.  The sponge was golden yellow, the jam bright red and the icing thick and sweet, but it was perfect with a cup of tea.  Manning's cakes sell out quickly so you have to go there early to get the best choice.

When I got home I looked at the flowers I pressed in October.

Then I made a collage of flowers from our garden and framed it.  I'd like to make a different collage every year to show the different types of flowers we've grown.

And I used the rest to make some greetings cards.

I used kitchen paper to press the flowers inside books.  With hindsight, I should have used blotting paper as the kitchen paper's pattern has shown up on the pressed flowers.  But they still look lovely and I will definitely be pressing lots more flowers this year.  Starting with the crocuses, daffodils and forget me nots in spring.

I also got a laminator and made some bookmarks with flowers inside.  The laminator will come in handy when I make posters for the allotment gates.

We decided not to go out on New Year's Eve and just had a chilled one at home.

On New Year's Day Chris went to the allotment and had a bonfire. He also dug up the parsnips.  They're massive.

I spotted a lovely flower on the frosty leaved plant in the hanging baskets.

The violas are hanging in there as always.

I swept the garden again because it was covered in bird food after the snow cleared.

Chris planted up the mini cactus plants using some recycled terracotta candle pots.

I finally got out the sewing machine that Ray gave me.  It works a dream, and is really easy to use.  I've ordered a couple of sewing books off Amazon to inspire me to learn more.

Chris made a cool box with painted leaves on the front.

The Embassy World Darts championship is on telly, we like to have a laugh and watch it every January.

So I didn't really get up to that much other than having long lie-ins in beds, dreaming lots and lazing about watching TV and films and eating chocolate. That's what the Christmas hols are for, isn't it? I think the break did me good, but I'm paying for it now that I'm back at work, getting up at 7.30am seems far too early, and I just wish I could stay in bed for an extra hour or so. I always say I'll have an early night, but I'm usually still up for 'Sailing By' and the shipping forecast at 12.45am. That's the time my body wants to go to bed, but 7.30am isn't the time it wants to get up.