Garden Update May 2016

It’s been a glorious weekend in our part of the UK and we’ve made the most of it by catching up on jobs in the garden!

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We did lots of tidying and planting; seedlings that we’d started in the greenhouse were desperate for potting on or planting out!

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Continue reading “Garden Update May 2016”

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Happy Days

As you’ve probably guessed by now if you’re friends with either of us on Facebook or Twitter, we’re now back in the North of England after a wonderful summer living in the South of France. Here’s a little photo gallery selected from the 1,657 photos we took over the last 5 months!

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During the summer we came across the Zac Brown Band, and this song seems to sum up our time in France. Listen to it while you’re browsing through the slideshow 🙂

We’ve had a wonderful summer in France and we’re now back in England with family and friends, looking forward to Christmas.

As for next year, who knows! Our house is still up for sale and we’re hopeful that it will sell in the new year, which will signal the start of a whole new adventure!

But we know one thing for sure, wherever we are, we’ll be living Happily Ever After.

Helen & Rich xxx

Variations on a Hommous Theme

Hommous / Houmous / Hummus / Hummous – delete as appropriate! I have never quite decided how to spell it… Anyhoo, that’s not my point, this is:

I have been making quite a lot of the stuff recently since I’ve stopped eating bread, as I’ve had to seek out alternatives to the usual lunchtime sandwich, and I much prefer to make it from scratch rather than have the shop bought stuff. Trust me, it’s quick and easy!

I found a recipe on the internet (after searching many websites and deciding they were all pretty much the same anyway) but I’ve also been experimenting with variations, so we don’t get bored of the standard houmous fayre (there we go, I have settled on a spelling).

I thought I’d document a few of my variations, so I don’t forget them, and so you can try them too if you wish!

This is the standard method I follow, most recipes call for tahini to be added, but you try buying that in France! So I leave it out and I don’t think it makes any difference. I have to be honest, I tend to add a touch more olive oil to compensate for the tahini, just to reach a nice creamy consistency. I use my food processor to blitz all the ingredients, and one tip I can give is don’t be afraid to keep the processor going for quite a while, until the chickpeas are well and truly mashed up. When I first made houmous, I thought that it was impossible to get the same consistency as the shop bought stuff, until one day I left the food processor going and wandered off. When I came back – perfect texture! It also helps to keep stopping it and scraping the bits down into the bowl!

Sundried Tomato Houmous

Large batch of sundried tomato houmous with some parsley sprinkled on top!

You need a jar of sundried tomatoes in oil. Leave out the lemon juice from the original recipe, and replace the olive oil with the oil that the tomatoes are preserved in. Chop up about 6 of the sundried tomatoes (or more if you feel like it, or have a jar to use up) and add them to the processor. Don’t make the mistake I did and add whole ones – the processor will not chop them up at the same rate as the chickpeas and you end up with whole tomatoes floating around. Kinda nice, but requires a knife when eating!

Basil Houmous

Stick to the original recipe (lemon juice optional, depends how you feel) and add a nice handful of chopped fresh basil leaves. I also have some basil infused olive oil, so I use this instead of the standard stuff. Yum!

Chilli Houmous

Fresh chilli that went into a batch of chilli houmous!

Standard recipe but with slightly less olive oil, and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce (preferably Scrummy sweet chilli dipping sauce, but as I’m not selling it at the moment I grant permission to use other brands!) Also, depending on how hot you like your chilli, add a freshly chopped chilli and garnish the top of the houmous with some!

Other ideas I’m pondering over at the moment include cucumber & mint, black pepper, and walnut (if the tree in the garden ever gives up its fruit!) I’ll keep you posted on how I get on!

Moules et Frites!

June & Ken

This week we have had the pleasure of the company of June and Ken Clarke, two very wonderful people who I’ve known all my life but don’t get to see very often.

It turns out that June is a bit of a master at cooking moules, my all time favourite meal and one I have every time I spot it on the menu, but have never cooked myself. Anyway, we decided to join forces and cook moules et frites for 8 people! It’s far easier than I realised!

Here’s what we did:

Busy kitchen!

June and Ken rinsed and prepared the mussels (which had been kept on ice to keep them fresh) by scraping off the ‘beards’ which is what they use to attach themselves to the rocks / rope / wherever they were residing. The trick at this stage is to discard any mussels that are already open.

Then we added some finely chopped shallots and garlic to a large pan with some olive oil. I’m being vague about the quantities because we were cooking for 8 people! But roughly, I’d say you need 2 shallots and 1 clove of garlic for 2 people (June may correct me when she reads this, if she does I’ll update it!)

Once the shallots and garlic have softened, add the moules to the pan, put on a high heat and add some white wine (about half a glass for 2 people). Put a lid on the pan as the mussels need to steam. leave the pan on the heat for around 4 minutes, giving them a good shake about half way through. They don’t take long at all, but the best way to tell, is when most of the shells are open! Discard any that aren’t open. Once they’re cooked, you can stir some chopped parsley through them, but we didn’t (because I forgot and left it in the fridge…)

Chips on the boil, shallots softening!

While all this was going on, Rich and I cooked some chips from scratch – not the healthiest food I know, but it was a treat! We followed a recipe that called for the chipped potatoes to be par-boiled, then drained and dried, fried until the chips start to turn colour. Then you remove them from that pan, drain them and let them cool, then add them to the boiling oil again for another frying until they’re golden brown and cooked through. They were delightful!

Anyway I hope this helps, I am reliably informed that the best place to buy moules in England is Morrisons, they’re nice and fresh! (remember to keep them very cold until you cook them!!)

Bon appetit!

Helen x

Summer draws to a close…

Me at a Friday evening market!

It’s definitely the end of the summer here in France. Not because the weather’s changed, we’re still enjoying beautiful sunshine most of the time (although it’s raining as I write this) but because the ‘festival’ season is over.

On our previous holidays in France we hadn’t particularly noticed the spirit of the ‘fete’ that takes place right throughout the summer, but this year we’ve witnessed it first hand. Every weekend over the last few months in our little village of Montauroux, there’s been some festival or other, mainly musically based and usually accompanied by a market or boules tournament.

But now, it’s all over, signalling the end of summer. On the first of September, down came the staging that was set up in the village square, down came the bunting and flags adorning the streets, and down came the temporary bar (lovingly nicknamed ‘the shed’ by us) packed away for another year.

So whilst there’s that ‘back to school’ feeling here as in the UK, there’s almost a ‘post Christmas’ atmosphere too.

But now, we’re looking forward to watching the season change in this beautiful part of the world.

101 Things to do with Figs!

The title of this blog post might be slightly misleading… we don’t HAVE 101 things to do with figs, we NEED 101 things!

The figs in are garden are ripening by the day, and we’re desperately trying to pick them before they go squishy and fall to the floor.

So, we open to suggestions please, any ideas for what we can do with all these figs?!

Here’s what we have done, or plan on trying, up to now, we’ll update this blog as we try other stuff or get suggestions from people!

1) Fig Jam from the Jams & Chutneys: Preserving the harvest, over 150 recipes"" Jams & Chutneys book. We tried this on Sunday and the result was quite sticky, but this is probably because I used sugar with added pectin, rather than sugar and pectin separately. That said, the mixture was quite gloopy before I even added the sugar! The finished product was a beautiful ruby colour, but was so thick it wouldn’t come out of the jar! We’ll give it another bash soon.

2) Sun Dried Figs! This is an adaption from The Preserving Book (Cookery)"" The Preserving Book which suggests drying figs for 48 hours in the oven, but there’s also a recipe for sun drying tomatoes if you’re in a hot climate. The temperature has been in the high 30s this week, so I thought I’d have a go at that! We’re midway through this process…

3) Baked Figs with Honey & Cardamon. This is taken from the Fruit (River Cottage Handbook)"". We’ve not tried this yet but once we have, we’ll let you know the results! It suggests to serve with ice cream so we’re all over that!

4) Juggling….? Hmm, might be a bit messy.

5) Figpote – the name intrigued me so we have to give it a go! It’s from the Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2"" and involves stewing the figs in orange juice and Earl Grey tea!

6) Figgy Mostardo is another recipe from the Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 River Cottage Preserves Handbook and goes well with hot or cold meat, apparently. It contains mustard seeds and grapefruit juice, interesting!

7) One thing I want to try is a Fig Jelly. The colour of the fig mixture when it’s boiling away is such a deep, glorious pinky red colour, I think it’d make a fantastic jelly to go with hams and things like that. Also, neither of us are big fans of seeds in jam, and figs come with a lot of them! I can’t find a recipe for Fig Jelly so I’m going to have a go at concocting one myself, wish me luck!

8) What I’d really like to do is SELL some of them! Every time I see a tray of figs in the supermarket, they’re tiny, wrinkly and very unappetising, not half as nice as ours look! I wonder if they want any at the farmer’s market…?

Not quite 101 yet is it… If anyone has any more suggestions, please do post them as a comment on here or write on the wall of our Facebook page, and we’ll give you full credit for your recipe!

Helen x

The thing I love about vegetable gardening…

I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden lately, which has been absolute heaven for me, and has also lead me to analyse what it is that I love so much about vegetable gardening…

I’ve decided the answer is pretty straight forward; I love watching things grow and develop.

This applies to all kinds of gardening, but I think it’s the most satisfying when you’re growing veg. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing flowers and shrubs develop, but to me, it seems that once your flowering plants reach a certain size, you spend the rest of your time pruning, dead-heading and cutting back to stop them taking over!

With vegetables, for the most part, it’s different.

From the moment I sew the seed, I’m waiting impatiently to see that first green shoot poking through the soil. Then I’m watching for the first set of true leaves, and after that I’m measuring every day’s growth, anticipating the first flower appearing.

Flowers then turn to tiny fruit, which, if I’m lucky, will continue to grow day on day, until they begin to ripen and are ready to be picked.

Reading this, you can probably tell that I’m more of a ‘fruiting veg’ kinda girl. I still dabble in brassicas and salad leaves, but I find the most satisfying produce is the type that flowers first, then fruits. This year I’m particularly excited about the cucumbers that are thriving outdoors in the mediterranean  sun (in previous years they’ve failed miserably in my damp greenhouse).

Working ‘from home’ this summer has given me the wonderful gift of time – a cliche I know, but this time last year I would be leaving work at 6.30pm, arriving home after 7pm, cooking dinner, and if I was lucky, grabbing 5 minutes in the garden before it got too dark to see what I was doing. Gardening was more of a weekend treat. This summer, I’ve been finishing work at 5pm English time (6pm French time) and immediately stepping outside and into the veg garden, where I can spend a good hour watering, weeding, observing and admiring, before it’s time to move on with the evening’s activities.

I can honestly say, I am not searching for an abundance of crops this year (which somewhat hampers my other passion, preserving) for example at the moment I’ve only got 1 healthy looking pumpkin from 5 plants, but I am genuinely satisfied to just take pleasure in watching the plants develop day on day, week on week. 🙂