August 25, 2010

Sad loss - Rest in peace Mabel

Last Thursday I had to say goodbye to our beautiful Buff Orpington, Mabel, after only ten days of having her. Bewilderingly, a roving dog with a bold disposition managed to get under or over the electric fencing and attacked her. I found her, unmarked, but with a broken neck surrounded by the other hens... very sad...

I shall miss her.

As an extra precaution we have since looked into erecting a 5ft weld mesh fence around the paddock. In our planning we only considered foxes and badgers as the main predators; we never anticipated having to think about dogs. It's sad when you have to learn mistakes the hard way, particularly when it involves a loss of life.

On a more positive note we picked up a new Buff Orpington last Saturday morning and she has settled in very quickly with the others. She is a little smaller than Mabel, but just as glamorous! We've named her Ruby and she's a real beauty, a mass of soft fluffy feathers with a personality to match!

August 17, 2010

Leafing through the seasons

Before I took on the allotment I used to think that winter and salads didn't go together. Now I wouldn't want to miss out on a winter salad bowl filled with soft lamb's lettuce, peppery rocket, pink and red chicory hearts and leaves.

Winter leaves give balance and extra appeal to meals which tend to become more starchy and dense and they look wonderful grown in stripes across the salad bed. I am still amazed that even on a frosty morning I can pick a selection of delicious home-grown leaves for lunch packed full of antioxidants. So much better than supermarket salad bags that are likely to have been 'washed' in a chlorine solution, and much cheaper too!

Now is the perfect time to be sowing autumn and winter salads. In the south of England, you can grow your salad straight into the ground outside, but in the north, or if heavy frost is predicted in the south, protect your crop with a plastic
polytunnel or some horticultural fleece. The variety of leaves available to grow is vast compared to even a few years ago, but these are some of my favourites:
*Corn salad (lamb's lettuce)
*Lettuce 'Black Seeded Simpson'
*Lettuce '
*Mustard 'Osaka Purple'
*Rocket salad

I buy the majority of my vegetable and salad seeds from Sarah Raven ( because she stocks some unusual varieties and her website is full of useful hints and tips. Grow some for yourself and see what you think!

August 14, 2010

Banner love

I've been searching for something special to hang on a blank wall in our living room for ages. I was hoping to find a nice old oil painting from a brocante during our recent holiday in Provence but nothing caught my eye.

Last weekend I was looking for inspiration on what to do with all the precious fabric scraps I'd been stashing away over the past months when I found the perfect project in
Home Sewn by Kaari Meng (details in my Librarything link). Kaari is a purveyor of French living, scouring the french countryside and Parisian flea markets to stock her Hollywood shop, French General, with vintage treasures. In her book she's created thirty simple sewing patterns for french inspired projects for the home that are both delightful and achievable.

I decided to make the shaped banner using a beautiful panel of french fabric I'd found at a recent antique fair. Backed with old linen, wall hangings like this could be found hanging behind the beds in 17th century french chateaus, keeping the cold air from coming in through the stone walls. I love old fabric because every piece has a story to tell through it's warp, weft, wear, and tear, so why not treat each piece as a small work of art?

August 11, 2010

Snow in the Summer

I don't know why I should be thinking about snow on such a glorious summer afternoon. Perhaps it's something to do with a conversation I had at sewing class last night about planning some Christmas present projects... I know, I know, it's only August, but I'm serious about having a home-made Christmas this year and it will only happen if I give myself plenty of time to get organised.

Anyhow, I think it must have been the inspiration behind this little poem I penned this afternoon.

* * *

Outside the window, high winds send snow
whirling around the woodshed at the garden's end.
I conjure you slowly from the air,
the tread of your gumboots crunching
through the silence, until you emerge sky-high
with snow caked in your heavy sheepskin coat.
I tap the small pink pads of my fingertips
against the glass, gently; so that Mother doesn't hear.
We wave as though you've only been gone a day,
before you leave your grief, my gift,
unwrapped and heavy on the doorstep
as I swallow down the words to thank you with.

August 09, 2010

Introducing the girls

I've always dreamt of having a few chickens grazing in the garden, keeping our family in eggs. Full self-sufficiency it isn't, but like growing your own it is a start, a personal contribution to a better way of life. Best of all, you can do it whether you live in the town or the country; even if you have only a small garden.

On Saturday we collected our first hens from a working farm on the edge of the picturesque Wylye valley. After a short but fairly bumpy ride home our six new girls were stowed safely inside their house so they would become familiar with their home base.

The next morning I opened the pop-hole and eagerly watched and waited, but two coffees later they still hadn't made an appearance. By lunch time I was just thinking I may need to give them a gentle shove to get them out of doors when one by one they slowly emerged.

They have been with us now for only two days and already I've noticed many hours can be easily wasted watching them scratch around eating all those garden pests. It's strangely addictive...

August 06, 2010

Bold and brilliant borlotti beans

The eau de nil and crimson-stippled borlotti bean is a beautiful thing. At the allotment I have them climbing up a simple teepee made out of hazel sticks tied together at the top, but they would manage just as well sprawling over a frame. After growing them for the first time last year, I vowed to always make space for them in the legume bed, particularly as they are difficult to buy in the UK. They look so handsome you'd want them in your veg patch anyway even if they didn't taste so good, but they do. They have a creamy flavour and a meaty, hearty texture and are perfect for hearty soups or pureed dips. I'll have to sit on my hands for a little while longer though, as they won't be ready to harvest for a few weeks yet. If you fancy growing them next year then 'Lingua de Fuoca 2' is the most widely available variety here. Sow them in late spring with your runner beans, although, unlike runners, you don't need to add lots of organic matter to their planting soil as they will produce lots of green growth and fewer flowers and beans. Pick them as the bean pods turn from green to cream when the beans inside are ripe. Or you can pick them earlier and dry them somewhere bright and warm inside until they have ripened. You can then use them at this stage, or shell them and dry them out of their pods for another week or so, then store them in a jar for use in the winter months.

According to the great self sufficient guru John Seymour, the true countryman always bears the winter in mind; it is easy enough to get plenty to eat through the summer.
Sound advice I'm sure, though I'm not sure I have the willpower.............

August 04, 2010

Rainy day baking

I am suffering from post holiday blues not helped by waking up to a grey drizzly day. The blue Provence skies feel a long way away and already I am missing the cherry orchards, vineyards and fields ablaze with lavender. But nobody likes a post holiday grump do they? So rather than wallow in self-pity I decided to bake a cake instead, enlisting the help of my teenage daughter who happily still enjoys the odd baking session with her mother. Keen to use up an abundance of produce from our allotment we settled on this delicious courgette and lime cake, courtesy of the lovely Nigella Lawson. I cheated a wee bit by substituting the home-made curd filling with a good quality shop bought lime curd sharpened with some freshly squeezed lime juice. The finished result we felt was a small triumph. All I need now is a glass of rose in the shade of a plane tree and the dull throb of cicadas in the background... Enjoy!
for the cake:60g raisins, optional
250g courgettes (2-3), weighed before grating
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
150g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 x 21cm sandwich tins, greased and lined

for the filling:
Jar of good quality lime curd
for the icing:
200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
2-3 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4
If you're using raisins, put them in a bowl and cover with warm water to plump them up.
Wipe the courgettes with a kitchen towel (but don't peel them), then grate. The coarse side of an ordinary box grater is the best thing to use: anything too fine or too quick can turn them to a wet mush. When you've grated them, turn them into a sieve over the sink to remove excess water.
Put the eggs, oil and sugar in a bowl and beat them until creamy. sieve in the flour, bicarb and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Now stir in the grated courgette and the drained raisins. pour the mixture into the tins, and bake for 30 minutes until slightly browned and firm to the touch. Leave in their tins on a rack for 5-10 mins, then turn out and let cool on the rack until your icing is ready.
To make the cream-cheese icing for the top, beat the cream cheese in a bowl until smooth, add the sieved icing sugar, beating well to combine, and then stir in the lime juice to taste. Now get your cakes ready for assembling. Put one cake on the plate and spread with lime curd. Put on the top cake and smear it thickly with the cream-cheese icing. If you feel the icing needs firming up a little, put the cake in the fridge for a while. Just before serving, scatter chopped pistachios over the top.
Serves 8

August 02, 2010


Welcome to my blog and to my very first post!
I hope you will visit from time to time to share ideas, take a peek at some of the things I love, or maybe just to look for some inspiration.
The idea for with her hands started with a desire to rediscover traditional skills and work towards living a more simple, sustainable life. I hope you enjoy following my journey. x