Grow one share one.

My Dad was a gardener of regimented lupins, stripes from the mower in the grass, neatly pruned roses and co-ordinated bedding plants.  My Mum loved flower arranging and the more blousy and floppy things were in the garden the better she loved it.  A tricky compromise every year.  There was a pond to fall in. I did, and perennials to flatten falling off my bike into.   I did that too.  And a cherry tree with the sourest fruits known to man. We learned flower names, Mum’s favourites and picked up a few tips. And every year in mid May she’d find just a few Lily of the Valley hiding away in the shade for my sister’s birthday.  Neither of them grew anything from seed though.

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For thirty years Nick and I had our own family garden with sandpit, water play, a few vegetables now and then, some spectacular raspberries, weeds, plant casualties and some successes.  It was a play garden and so it didn’t matter.  Now we have a grown up garden with a small greenhouse and a big need for plants.  So I’m learning to grow from seed. Nothing is more satisfying that successfully growing a seedling and waiting for it to grow its first proper little leaves so you can ‘pot it on’. Nothing so frustrating as growing a batch of seedlings and stupidly putting them outside to get some air and them getting wind burn instead.

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Or not getting the heat/water/light combination right and growing leggy seedlings all straining for the light like microfilaments hardly strong enough to support their own weight. But, when you succeed you get fresh veg ready to pick when you want them, and a few flowers for a jug on the table.  All well and good if you’ve got space and time, and lots of us haven’t.  So its good to have learned some short cuts.

Anyone, really anyone can grow broad beans.  Tip some compost into a loo roll cardboard centre, pop in a seed, water and wait.  Very, very soon a huge seedling will sprout and when they look strong and healthy you can plant them out still in their tube in the garden or in a pot on your balcony.

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A courgette plant will grow in a 18″ pot or plastic dump bin.  Water it well and it will give you courgettes all summer.  If you want pots of geraniums for your window sill buy them when they’re small, nurture them and as they grow pot them into a bigger pot before eventually putting them in a window box.  Our garden centre recycles flower pots of all sizes for free.  The market and nurseries sell small vegetable plants you can take home and just care a little for.  You can grow chillis in a pot, tomatoes in a bucket and potatoes in a sack.

A packet of seeds gives you dozens of plants.  Usually too many. So share and swop.  Save whatever seed you can at the end of the summer and that’s free plants right there.

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Calendula is a great example of exaggerated brightness, perfect for cutting and cheap as chips.  The seeds are like goblin toe nail clippings – really.

Today I experienced micro greens for the first time.   Little snips of vegetation bursting with unexpectedly zingy flavour.  They’re highly nutritious and will grow on a window sill, ready to be snipped as you want them.  Have them in a sandwich, or sprinkled over a leafy salad. Fine dining when you want it.  I’m going to have a go myself.

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If you want to read all about them http://backtoherroots.com/2015/04/07/how-to-grow-microgreens-indoors/

Meanwhile the pigeons have chopped the head off one of my baby lettuce plants and I can hear the slugs marching towards the Hostas.  I shall arm myself with netting and scissors and take my revenge.  Gotta love gardening. x

Cake anyone?

A birthday weekend is always an excuse to bake a cake.  Will it be vanilla with cream cheese icing, or cream and jam, all over frosting or a light dusting of icing sugar? Or a squidgy carrot cake, coffee and walnut or chocolate fudge?

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Whatever the choice the gathering together of utensils and ingredients is a pleasure rather than a chore.  Softening the butter and mixing with sugar until fluffy, adding the eggs and folding in the dried ingredients a simple and well practiced routine.  I always know when a cake’s done because you can smell it. OK, I admit it, the washing up and putting away is a bit of a bore but there’s time to do it while the cake cooks.  Someone gets to lick the spoon and everyone is happy.  Anyone can make a cake, and I mean anyone.

There are other cooking tasks I really enjoy…

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Are You Being Served?

At risk of becoming sentimental I’ll state I miss paper bags.  Buying something that comes in a paper bag I mean.  Its crispness and the fact you could scrunch it down and hold it by the corner.  A bag of apples, a few buns or a quarter of Tom Thumb Drops.

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There are other things I miss.  As a child I was sat on the marble counter of J Sainsbury where a lady in a spotless white overall would scoop up and shape pats of butter with great wooden paddles and wrap it in greaseproof.  At our local grocers they roasted coffee beans in the shop and served loose tea from big square tins. The ‘wine merchant’ wrapped a bottle of gin in tissue paper, and at the greengrocer the air was moist and smelled of dug potatoes and bunches of parsley.

Food was seasonal. The first daffodils and Jersey Potatoes were something to celebrate.  Its worth remembering too that if it rained your bag got wet and things fell out and sometimes there were “shortages” of things.  But that aside it was great to actually know the people you bought things from.

This week I visited the Ginger Pig in Hackney

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The Ginger Pig began in 2009 when Tim Wilson decided to keep a few pigs.  When a local retired butcher advised him it was time to move to the next stage he taught himself butchery and the company was born.  This is a farm in North Yorkshire that breeds its own livestock with high standards of animal welfare.  The quality produce is distributed to its 7, soon to be 8, London shops where highly trained and passionate butchers prepare joints and cuts, birds, sausages and bacon with a great sense of personal pride.

They have female butchers, and Erika manages the shop here in Hackney, but I just happened to be served by Benito, a butcher from Napoli who brought all his Italian charm here to make his fortune.

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This level of care and service is remarkable.  It makes shopping an absolute pleasure.  And if I can only afford to eat this quality now and then I’m prepared to give eating lentils and vegetables and easy pasta the rest of the time a try.  Less meat but better quality.  Does this look like meat that was cared for?

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Of course you don’t have to be in London to achieve this level of quality and service.  National Food Festivals brim with quality producers of fine products.  The Food Programme on Radio 4 runs an  annual competition for small producers in all categories from drinks to sausages.   Our Norfolk pig producers breed some of the finest pork in the world.  Cornish Sardines, Kent fruit, Welsh lamb, Scottish Whiskey,Wensleydale, Melton Mowbray and all the rest.

My local butcher in Wymondham, Peter Parke has been a butcher for as long as the Queen has been a Queen and he hasn’t had a holiday since his honeymoon.

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His shop isn’t fancy, its utilitarian. There’s little on display but Peter who learned his trade from his father before him will go back into his huge fridges and produce any cut of meat you like and do it with the care and professionalism that comes with years of experience.  His meat looks cared for too doesn’t it?

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And he’ll give you bones for stock (and shhhh… dripping for your toast). He doesn’t need to be showy.  His customers just expect the best, and he’s known lots of them since they were children.

I regularly shop in the supermarket of course, but I do sometimes wonder who decided we should eat strawberries in February, or raspberries all year round?  Why carrots should be straight, or pears a certain size or baking potatoes all the same?  I don’t know about you but sometimes I want small ones, and sometimes I want big ones.  Who was it who decided cereals must be sweetened? In fact everything must be sweetened. That things have to taste salty – stock cubes for example?  Why things don’t taste like they actually do because someone thought it was more marketable to change the way they taste? And I wonder why home made soup is just better in every way than manufactured soup.

With four million people in the UK diagnosed with Diabetes and such concern for childhood obesity it makes you wonder if supermarkets are bad for us, and if we’re being ill served?

 

What is clutter….exactly?

I’m just about to embark on another pile of stuff.  Yesterday’s news, a bank statement, a clothes catalogue, a letter from Anglia Water offering me pipe insurance, a scrap of paper with a phone number of who knows who, a folded shopping bag and an unread paperback. There’s a plant label (must keep that), and a pair of dressmaking scissors. God I was hunting for THEM.

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And that’s just in one corner on one surface.  In the hall there’s a huge box containing a genuine Stetson Hat. Its a Montana Crease to be precise.  The sort of Stetson John Wayne himself wore.  The very best type of Stetson apparently.  It doesn’t even belong to me.  So that’s not MY clutter.  That’s someone else’s’ so that’s ok I can ignore it. Move on.  My camera bag hangs on the back of a chair, husband’s old binoculars are always on the side, a mini set of screwdrivers, a pile of CD’s, a roll of sellotape – AH, there it is.

In our house we don’t seem to have surfaces.  Just piles of stuff.  I suppose its clutter.  Or maybe its not its “stuff waiting to be put away”.  And most of the clutter is classed as “mine” – no-one else seems to have any, or share responsibility for it.  Maybe boxes for clutter with names on is the answer –  MINE, YOURS, HERS, THE SISTER’S, GOD KNOWS WHOSE? Meanwhile my husband has the garage, which is, yes you guessed it, full of “my clutter”. It resembles a cross between the Old Curiosity Shop and Steptoe’s yard.  But that’s a story for another day.

If I buy a special zip up bag to keep my wrapping paper and ribbons in is that like when I buy Cillit Bang and I think it means my taps will be shiny?  Yes,  What it actually means is I have to go through it all, throw away the annoying 20cm piece on the end of a hollow roll not-quite big-enough-to-wrap-a-present and the crumpled stuff and the knotted stuff.  I’ve got to do it. And before I know where I am I’ll have too many rolls to fit in it, and the zip just won’t quite close and there’ll have to be an overflow bag.

I’ve got to the age now that if anyone comes into the house bearing a gift if its not edible, or a plant I have palpitations worrying where I’m going to put it.  This can’t be right. I’ve turned into my father.  We recently moved house after living in the same place for 30 years.  I sorted clutter for Britain.  I thought I’d got it tamed.  But no, I just moved a whole load of it with me because its sentimental, beautiful or useful.

One of my clutter busting tactics is to go around collecting up little bits and put them in a small container.  My best friend despairs of my little pots.  To be honest, so do I.  Once in a while I trawl through them.  Round up the ballpoint pens and emery boards, the business cards and the odd champagne cork (?) and put them where all those things should go.  But before I know it another one starts to fill up.

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Sometimes we have a *big clear up* which involves going through stuff and putting away what you can identify, and leaving a smaller pile for someone else in the house for them to go through.  I don’t think those piles ever get fully sorted.  They just become the bottom of a new pile.

In a bookshop I flick longingly through a Conquer Your Clutter self help book for some inspiration as to where I’ve gone wrong.  Take one room at a time they tell me, take one drawer at a time they entreat.

I’ve just found the door to the Duplo house.  My children are 29 and 31….I wonder where its BEEN?

I’ve decided to follow The Organised Home  not least because they have beautiful photographs of the most lovely objects to help ease your clutter chaos, but also because there I think I found the answer to my lifelong problem.  The sage advice which is as plain as the note on my face and yet I’ve ignored it all these years – which is

put things back where they belong …..

Wish me luck with that.  Now, where should I put a little vase that looks like a hand grenade?

Let me know how you control your clutter.

 

It Never Happens the Way We Think It Will Happen

Pleased to share this blog from Teri Carter. Food for thought.

Teri Carter's Library

imagesI am walking my dog when it happens. The woman does not see me. The woman does not see my dog. The woman points her car my way and guns it, and when I see she doesn’t see me—doesn’t see my bright blue shirt nor my arm waving ‘hello neighbor’ in the air nor my big yellow lab standing at the side of her driveway—I dive to my right and the bumper of her car clips my hip and I tumble down and over the newly-mowed grass of her lawn and the next thing I know I’m lying there, just lying there, pushing to get up and looking at my dog looking down at me with her tail wagging, wagging wagging wagging. The dog licks my hand. We are alive, the dog seems to say. We are okay.

For the last decade I’ve been walking my dogs in a downtown…

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Happy Easter

 

However you celebrate Easter you won’t fail to be bombarded with shiny paper, fluffy chicks, bunnies and chocolate.  Secretly I have to say I love the colours, so cheery after a slow start to Spring.

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A few little eggs on some twigs in a jug,

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a collection of cross looking homespun bunnies,

and the promise of roast lamb tomorrow.

Our family tradition.

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Simnel cake, eaten since Tudor times, signals the end of Lent. The richly fruited, light coloured cake has a layer of marzipan in the middle and eleven ball decorations representing the disciples of Jesus, excluding Judas.  The top is toasted under the grill to give it a golden crustiness.

I’m not a big fruit cake maker but with a packet of marzipan left over in the cupboard from Christmas (husband can never resist a two for one offer) and a recipe card this twist on the traditional large cake was too tempting.

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Pleased to report they were quick to make and the addition of lemon juice and zest to the mix made them not too sweet.  We’ve added a new tradition to our celebration.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend have a

Happy Easter