Thursday, 7 November 2013

Happy Holidays

Due to a lot of things going on we had a late Halloween celebration but that didn't harm the fun! Boy monkey made a pumpkin with a snotty nose and I got inspired by a polka dot design from one of my friends. She'd only given birth a few days before and produced the most amazing pumpkin! 

We had some lovely friends staying over and all the little (and big) ones went mad on the face paint. It's best never to grow up really, too much fun to be had when there are no worries in life.

Mini Betsy is forever asking to have something that resembles my favourite pink Cava and finally the brilliant people at Shloer have come up with an alcohol free version of just that! It kind of has the same colour and is in the same festive bottle. It proved to be most popular and I know it will be purchased many a time for the upcoming festive season. As it happens there is a "white" variety too that we shall be sampling very soon. I loved the taste of the "Celebration Pink Fizz" and I know for sure that it was the highlight for some at our delayed Halloween party. Thank you Shloer! 

Friday, 11 October 2013

First season's harvest

Today I just had to remind myself that although the allotment looks quite empty and overgrown in places and frankly a little neglected, I have achieved quite a bit in the first six months. 

Not everything worked as well as I had hoped; quite a few crops were attacked by slugs, squirrels and birds but at least I did not get any carrot fly. 

My onions were really quite small but hopefully next year when I know what to do with the soil they might look a bit more presentable.

And although most of my bean plants were eaten by slugs, the two that survived produced plenty of french beans and broad beans. Enough to keep the kids happy, more would have been too much. I can honestly say I did not suffer from glut. 

I think I got about one and a half courgettes even though the plants looked fabulous and had lots of flowers on it. I will do a bit of reading up on this and hope for better next year.

Rhubarb, blackberries and raspberries were had in abundance, this had nothing to do with me, they were there already. Having just read the article about splitting rhubarb clumps in the latest issue of Grow Your Own magazine I know what to do next and they might even survive another couple of years.

Last weekend though I think I picked the last of the beans, carrots, spring onions and blackberries. But there's plenty of apples on the trees (pears have disappeared somehow) and they are great for eating and apple sauce. Jam season might be well and truly over but chutney and piccalilly  might be on it's way with lots of green tomatoes and plenty of cabbages still growing. 

Lots to learn but I should be pleased with these first crops. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A great Method

Has everyone been enjoying this fabulous weather in the North West? It is proper Summer, brilliant! 
I have been spending quite some time at the allotment, weeding and picking the fruits of my labour in particular. I have been coming home with potatoes, onions, strawberries, raspberries, black currants, radishes, parsley and lots of rhubarb to make delicious Summer meals. 

All is growing nicely, the sprouts and beetroot that I grew from seeds at home were looking a bit limp to start with but are doing really well and all the nice plug plants that I got with Grow Your Own Magazine are doing very well. Thanks to a great supplier! 

I thoroughly agree with those that say growing your own makes you happier. It is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding to spend all that time outside in the fresh air, seeing how things develop in nature and to enjoy it later on your plate. Growing my own makes me try even more new things and I also feel a lot happier at home, making sure that all is tidy and looking welcoming with flower arrangements where possible. 

The other day I was given a beautiful bunch of flowers by the lovely Mr G and although I kept the curtains in the lounge closed during the day, after about 10 days some of the flowers just couldn't cope. Those that were still nice I put in a vase with flowers from my own garden, I am quite pleased with this country bouquet. The minimalist ones in the slim glass vase are looking quite stunning too. They are the flowers from the onions that were going mental. Not sure why some of these onions developed these lovely long flowers and others didn't but when I have a Google moment I shall find out. 

To help me make my home even nicer, the lovely people at Method sent me a couple of things to try out. Knowing that I've got very dirty hands and a rather messy entrance hall and kitchen when returning from the allotment, they sent me a nice hand wash, floor cleaner, all purpose cleaner and laundry liquid. I am a keen fan of natural cleaning products and for the last 10 years or so have been a huge fan of Ecover. I think I have a new favourite. The Method products look stunning (apologies for the photo, I did have a really nice one but due to the Apple ios 6.1.3 update my phone has been messed up and the not so nice people at Apple who are supposed to give a two year warranty on products are not replacing it!)

Anyway, the packaging of all products is stunning and they smell just gorgeous. I have tried the pink grapefruit hand wash and once that is finished I will buy this straight away again. Even the little ones and their friends love it. And best of all it only squirts just enough rather than a lot.

The floor cleaner again is in a beautiful bottle, I just love the minimalist design and it is very easy to use. The lemon and ginger smell is so natural; I like it as much as my usual Ecover floor cleaner. I know they are different brands but I believe Method was bought by Ecover so the compliments stay in the family so to speak.

The laundry liquid has a beautiful smell too and is also very easy to use, the squirt system is so much cleaner to use than the usual pouring system. Drips on bottles always annoy me. And as for the multi surface cleaner with the gorgeous French lavender smell, well I have not stopped using this in the last couple of days. It really encourages me to clean every surface in the house on a daily basis.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


Apologies for these rather bad photos but I didn't feel like taking all the netting off again. 
Just wanted to "show off" the fruits of my labour. 

The weather has been absolutely glorious, which means going down to the allotment at least once a day for watering and time permitting weeding during the day. The aftermath of late May and early June is still ongoing but I have discovered lovely beet spinach between the weeds and the carrots and mini leeks are nearly weed free and looking beautiful!

In the last few days I have had a couple of delicious salads with home grown produce: potatoes, radishes and parsley are growing beautifully. 
Salad leaves are in abundance and tonight I have picked the first spinach leaves. 
Every night the monkeys and me harvest one strawberry each as the birds seem to get the rest but even that single one is so unbelievably sweet that we are happy just with that. The overgrown paths all around the allotment are going to be rich with all sorts of berries soon so we'll be bringing tubs every night. Think I might have to start reading up on jam making. 

After all the initial hassle with the courgettes I am pleased to see those doing really well and I am hoping that this year I get more tomatoes than last year (two...). I suppose I have learnt from my mistakes. I have also encircled them with home made bracelets of copper wire. I have designed a reasonable amount of jewellery but making something for a tomato plant is a first. 

I have been enjoying this whole allotmenteering so far but this last week has just been brilliant. Going home every night with a basket of produce is just fabulous and the monkeys are so delighted to try all the things from the plot that it is worth just for that. 

Now I am going to finish the night with a lovely piece of rhubarb crumble, made with stalks picked with love. 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Queen of the Jungle

Yep that is how I felt this weekend, Queen of the Jungle, and not in a good way.
I failed to go to my allotment for a good week and it wasn't good news. This I hasten to add was not deliberately, as a matter of fact I wish I could go everyday.

Anyway this is how I found the garden: weeds up to my knees. OK, the potatoes were looking alright, and after weeding even better. Same thing with the onions and the beetroot (from seed) is coming up nicely. I had an issue though identifying the beet spinach in between the small weeds. Sadly I don't recognise all weeds yet and really not sure what beet spinach seedlings look like.

Recently I gained another half plot and slowly I am getting to grips with that one. I am pleased that I managed to clear one bed, as shortly I need to have space for 90 plug plants, courtesy of Grow Your Own Magazine. Both the plug plants and the subscription should keep me on my toes! 

Excuse the blue plastic edging but they were lying around the plot & I needed something to identify this patch, but after 8 hours of digging I am pleased with the result, looking miles better from the rest and the areas big enough to house the plug plants. 

Boy Monkey's plot needed a bit of love as well.  After 10 days of neglect it was difficult to spot the rows of carrot and mini leek seedlings but we managed to clear it up and we're very excited that they are all coming up. 

Mini Betsy discovered that the birds pulled out the garlic so she planted them again & made a bed for parsley seeds. She's very excited, I just hope some things will come up! 

Back home I started hardening of the beet root, Brussels sprouts and courgette seedlings but they are not doing brilliantly. I think little hands may have over watered them so let's see what happens. It is all a learning curve! 

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Old Rock Factory, Blackpool

The other day I went to Blackpool on a mission: attending a press day at the Old Rock Factory on behalf of Redeye. Although I was really looking forward to meeting the people there I felt slightly ambiguous about going to Blackpool as my last visit to the city was not entirely satisfactory. 

It wasn't long though before I had a massive smile on my face. After the initial hurdle of finding my way through all the building works and locating The Old Rock Factory I was greeted by the absolutely lovely Linzi Cason who is one of the workshop leaders. 

The first thing I noticed were the brightly coloured stairs. I know this is quite random but I love it when people personalise stair cases and it reminded me of the nice colours on the steps of the Royal Exchange Theatre when Mini Betsy was in Rats' Tales

Linzi introduced me and the others to the wonderful Robin Ross (of Key103 fame I found out later, I can be excused I hope, I am not from this part of the world) and we set off with cameras in hand for a walk around Blackpool. It was a little wet and very windy but that didn't detract from the enjoyment and the great company.

We started off taking some pictures of architecture and sculptures to see if that would be something we could use for our screen print workshop later and I particularly found the Comedy Carpet fascinating.

After the walk we went back to Linzi's studio where she has a fabulous collection of old camera's. We chose our two images to work with after lunch and I settled on the "Do you think marriage is a lottery?" image and the last photo I took of the door of the studios. 

Never having done any screen printing before it seemed like there was an awful lot to remember but Linzi and Robin were brilliant and helped along the way. They seemed to work some magic with normal printer paper and cooking oil and machines that make fabulous screens (I won't explain how as A. it is too complicated and B. it is such good fun that you need to experience that yourself!) 


I tried out a couple of colours and mixes and these were the results. I was quite pleased with them really and would love to see one day if portrait photos work well too. It is a fabulous way of playing with your images and making work. 

I came away feeling most excited, especially about having been at the workshop, meeting lovely people and getting to know a completely different side to Blackpool and revising my memories. I would love to go back again to see them and I can thoroughly recommend the workshop.

If you would like to have a fantastic day in Blackpool like I had, get in touch with them here.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

From the sublime to the ridiculous

My weekend was rather full on, I spent most of the day time on my allotment and last night I was in Carmen at the Opera House. It had been a couple of years since I had been on the stage and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great people, great audience who clearly liked it so much they all got on their feet at the end of it (nothing to do with me I have to add, I didn't sing a note in it!).

The whole weekend was one of extremes and I leave it to you to decide which part was the sublime and which the ridiculous.

As I am writing I am feeling rather sore, I feel like I need a hip replacement. I spent a ridiculous amount of time digging a few rather small patches but I was determined to get as many dandelion and horse hair roots out of the soil as possible. The result: probably around 10 kilos.

I admit that I haven't exactly achieved miracles but in eight weeks time there is quite an improvement if I say so myself:

Yesterday I managed to plant strawberries and asparagus in a "permanent" bed, I put some beet root seeds in and I bought myself a super duper very sharp Dutch hoe. Don't know what's Dutch about it but it was a great purchase and I worked it in my onion bed, which looks brilliant. I had read somewhere that it was best to cover the set onions with some fleece as crows really like them and I think the fleece worked. Mine are coming up beautifully but my neighbour's that were planted the next day and bought at the same shop are not looking all that brilliant. 

As I left yesterday I felt saddened by and worried about the state of the adjacent patch. At some point mine and this one were looked after by the same person. I turned mine around before all the dandelions managed to flower and the thought of years of seeds produced by the patch next door did not exactly make me happy. 

Today, however as I walked through the gate I was greeted by the allotment administrator with the good news that I can now have this patch too. I think those that know me well would say this is the most ridiculous part of the weekend. I am absolutely delighted. Isn't the saying "If you need anything done, ask a busy woman'? And I guess the busier one is the more one can get done! Haven't loved anything as much as working in my allotment and I can't wait to turn this one around. 

Today I put up some canes for the runner beans. Most happy with this achievement. I feel like I am really getting the hang of it and love reading up every spare minute that I have. 

I loved my weekend and leave you to ponder what was sublime and what was ridiculous. Personally I think it was all sublime, loved all of it but looking at the two pictures below it was one of extremes. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Day of The Dandelions

If there was such a film as "The Day of The Dandelions" it could have been filmed in my little plot. Realising the other day that the weed control fabric didn't work, freaking out Mini Betsy as she'd never seen so many weeds in one patch I took the advice to double it up and try again. Fast forward two weeks later and it is sadly the only place where there are many, many growing. 

So my job today was to dig it over and pull out as many roots as possible up to about a foot and a half deep or so. This is probably not deep enough but time was short so I'll see what happens next week. I was warned about horse hair, which is starting to spread like wild fire, especially in the neighbouring patch, hope it doesn't blow over. However I suppose that is wishful thinking.

I finally managed to get my carrot and mini leek seeds in and as I am still waiting for my veggie mesh to arrive I've covered the area with my mums old net curtains. Not sure if it does the job but it is the same colour (white) with small holes so hope no carrot flies will come in.
This is proper DIY gardening on a shoe string!

On the plus side, the set onions that I planted two weeks ago are showing signs of life. Yeah!  I had them covered with a bit of white fleece to deter crows from picking them out of the soil. I noticed that my neighbour, who planted them the next day hadn't done that and no green shoots yet. Hope my trick worked. 

All gardening wisdom is not my own but I am grateful to all those who keep blogs, tweet and give very useful advice in books. My current read is The Half Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz, not because I'd like to cut corners already but it has come recommended.
I'm going to get a cup of tea ready and curl up with my book under a home made quilt.

Monday, 15 April 2013

A job for which you need your Marigolds

I am a bit of a hoarder I have to admit to that. I think that has partly to do with my character, I like to collect things and love re-using and upcycling. I am also the child of parents that lived through the war and my dad in particular would always keep everything in case he could use it for something else. And invariably whenever I do throw something away with a heavy heart, a few months or even years later, I will find a use for whatever was given to a charity shop or put in the bin.

Anyway one thing that I kept in a box somewhere underneath loads of plastic tubs in a kitchen cupboard (take away boxes come in handy for school fairs!) was a little River Cottage Seasonal Food Guide that was included with the Guardian in 2006. And I am so very pleased that I kept this. Inspired by my newly acquired allotment and the need for more veg and less (or no) meat I have been going through recipe books and folders and in this little booklet on the page for the month of March my eye caught this quote from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: "If you've never cooked nettles before, this is the time to try". Of course with my mantra "try something new every day" I had to go down to the allotment and pick nettles. I read up on it and noticed that only the fresh leaves should be used and the leaves only not the stalks.

I had thought about picking nettles before but never really dared. Would they really taste nice? What if a dog had urinated on them? Would they really not sting after cooking? Silly thoughts really as I have eaten nettle cheese many a time in the past and love it and I drink nettle tea on a very regular basis. So off I went with my gardening gloves and cut all the tips of the young nettles around the allotment. Armed with a basket full back in my kitchen I put on the marigolds and removed every little stalk, quite a painstaking task but I really wanted to  have a go at making nettle soup. And then I found a recipe on a nettle soup website

I modified it a little but according to their recipe I used an onion, cut in small pieces (no garlic as I had none left), 2 big potatoes cut in little cubes and fried this in a little oil and butter until slightly softened. I then added the nettle leaves, one litre of water and a vegetable stock cube. It didn't look like much but I let it boil for about 15 mins; just to make sure it wouldn't sting :-). And then pureed it with a hand blender. 

Even though I already had my dinner and was going to freeze this soup I had to have a little taste. According to the recipe I should have added cream unless I was going to freeze it so I didn't and having tried it I wouldn't. I have made many soups and am VERY critical when it comes to shop bought ones and trying them elsewhere but I have to say this one was most definitely one of the most delicious soups I have ever made or tasted. I literally licked my fingers as I got the last bit out of the pan.

Thank you to Hugh for inspiring me to try and cook nettles and to the nettle soup website for the base of the recipe. I can truly recommend and will be picking nettle leaves again. I only wished I had tried this before.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Digging first then to Birmingham we go

It may be too cold to plant but that didn't deter me from making beautiful trenches for the potatoes when eventually the snow & frost forecast disappears. Naturally accompanied by warm cups of coffee & biscuits to keep the energy up.

So far it's been an active day, getting up at the crack of dawn as Mini Betsy had to be dropped off to take a coach to Birmingham.

She'll be making her stage debut there tonight. Very exciting, we're all a bit giddy and spent all afternoon packing bags, making cards, wrapping presents and cooking. The Brazilian cheese breads are ready; the halloumi, chicken and leek pie is about to go in the oven. We'll have a lovely picnic when we get there!

My only worry now is the weather. I do not enjoy the forecast of blizzards & being stuck on the M6. Fingers crossed that all goes well. The good thing is we'll have plenty of food with us. As they say in the theatre world: "Break a leg".