24 Dec 2009

Happy Holidays!

 Happy Christmas!

The Veg Patch has spent much of the last week under snow and ice so there's little to report. Instead I shall wish all my friends in blogland a very Happy Holidays - see you in the New Year!

19 Dec 2009

Warming Weekend Watercress Soup …

D'ya like the snowfall effect I've added to my page?  We've had flurries of snow for real from midweek here in North London - causing L and I to dash out on a mercy mission and buy horticultural fleece for the VegPatch winter produce - and we've been promised heavy snowfall tonight.  (Oh how the readers in the North must be laughing!  We're lucky if we get 3 inches of snow; they have to find a spade to even leave the house.)

Last weekend, I added a bag of watercress to my shopping and made soup as soon as I got home.  This wonderful emerald soup is so nourishing and just the thing when brrrr-baby-it's-cold-outside.  Gleaned from my tried and trusted Leith's Cookery Bible, why don't you give it a try?

For 2 hearty bowls you will need:

1 bag of watercress (I remove the bigger stalks)
1 medium onion, sliced and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 pint of white stock (or use a bouillon powder)
1 oz butter
Optional: a few sprigs of basil and coriander; 1/2 pint milk

What you do:

Melt the butter and cook the onions over a low heat until soft but  not coloured.  Add the diced potatoes and white stock.  Simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Let it cool slightly before chucking into a blender with the watercress (and any other herbs) and blitzing.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg (if liked).  Reheat in the cooking pot and serve. 

Leith says to add up to half a pint of warmed creamy milk to get the consistency that you want - this would stretch the soup to 4 small bowls.  I didn't do this because to me it was lovely as it was and the addition of milk would detract from the beautiful vibrant green of the soup.

17 Dec 2009

Blueberry buds …

Loving the colours in this photo.

Here's one of our blueberry bushes, waiting to be planted on, but braving the December cold with a few little buds.  Photo snapped on Sunday evening as we put our tools away and an unexpected ray of late afternoon sunshine hit the allotments.

16 Dec 2009

Another milestone reached …

(Photo: The Veg Patch in  February 2009)
… from this,
to this…
(Photo: The Veg Patch in December 2009)

I eagerly await the time when gardening will be a question of doing what you can, when you can.  But for the York Rise group, still in our first year of battling with years of garden neglect, it's about crossing off tasks from our 'To Do' list.  And remember what the big one was?  Yep, the ivy.  But I have great news!  The Orchard Border has been cleared!  The sense of achievement (not to mention relief) in the aftermath of the weekend is huge

With forecasts of an imminent freeze, and a miraculous window appearing in the work schedule of a neighbour with well-honed gardening muscles (heh heh)*, my plans to deck the halls indoors were shelved in favour of a weekend of ivy clearance.  L's text alerted me that she'd made a start at midday on Saturday.  I joined her (…eventually - I didn't see the text straightaway, oops) and by dusk, we'd just about hacked and chopped our way through to the soil …

(Photo: Ivy debris at dusk.  A bit blurry, not really enough light.)

leaving the debris to be transported down to the recycling centre to be made into organic compost on Sunday - which we will, no doubt, be buying back in its transformed state.

(Photo: first trip of 5.  In this pic, back seat down and boot only half full!)

Sunday dawned bright but very cold and the team worked on through overcast skies, bitter winds, large mugs of tea, scrumptious bacon butties (heaven sent from L's kitchen) and neglected families until all was done - bar one last trip to recycling.

So now to the big reveal…!  We proudly present the York Rise Mini Orchard, consisting of 2 pear trees (Conference), 2 apple trees (Braeburn), 2 plum trees (Victoria), 2 cherry trees (Morello) - and a little bit of the ivy left in place for decorative effect:

Now for the blueberries and raspberries!

* I really shouldn't be dwelling on the muscles of our digging neighbour - I just remembered my mother is an occasional reader of this blog!

11 Dec 2009

Show off your garden photos! 2010 calendars

Here's one I made earlier … (fits into CD case)

For me, one of the many benefits of writing this blog is being able to indulge my love of photography - there's so much to photograph in nature and it's just great to have a showcase for my pics.  It's more a question of luck than judgment with me but occasionally I get a photo I'm really pleased with.  In a moment of madness, I toyed with the idea of designing my own 2010 calendar to show off my prize pics - yikes! can you imagine the work, copying all those dates! - but, luckily, a timely email reminded me of the Canon Creative Park website where some lovely people have already done that and uploaded their work to share.  If, like me, you have more creative thoughts than time, I'm happy to share my finds with you.

First up, the Photoframe calendar 0013.  This downloads as an A4 (or US letter, you choose) page-per-month calendar.  Print onto card or photo paper and glue on your photos (it will take up to 7"x 5"). Better still, open in Photoshop (or similar) and drag your photo from another file onto the calendar and print.  I did the latter, changing the black border for a cheerier colour and also put a white fill over the Canon logo to erase it (ooh, cheeky!) and replaced with my blog address. Here's a screen grab of my work-in-progress:

I like this one because there's room to write in reminders and birthdays.  Once printed, hold together with a bulldog clip and hang on a hook - or use a magnetic bulldog clip and display on your fridge, filing cabinet or wall if you have magnetic paint!  (Not as silly as it sounds, believe me!)  Another option would be to hole punch two holes through all 12 sheets, tie with ribbon or string and hang.  If you use a big bulldog clip and stuff a pencil through the top, you could hang this one in your allotment shed and note down when you sowed your seeds, planted stuff out, or list jobs to be done.

If you have access to an empty CD jewel case, this next one would make a nice stocking filler: again from Canon, the Photoframe Calendar 016.  This time, you download a folder of 6 pages as there are 2 months to each printed page; you crop the edges and cut in two - once you've added your photos as above.  The photo size needed here is 4.75" x 2.75".  I also added some stripes at the side of my photos - a) because I like stripes and b) I was then able to keep the proportion of my images.

Here's my January and February ready for the chop:

And here's the finished calendar, sitting prettily next to my kitchen Sage:

With this one, I like that it's economical with paper.  But if you want this size with a cover page, and don't mind printing out 12 pages and wasting half of them cropping down to size (you will keep the offcuts for lists, etc, won't you…!), the first calendar (shown right at the top) is one I made after finding a template from the Shutter Sisters blog. (Click here to check this one out.) Their design scores a gold star for looks by using a clean and uncluttered font; maybe I'll combine the two.  Yeh, right … if only I had the time!

P.S.  If you groan at the thought of trawling back through your digital photo archives, here's how I do it:  I have a separate folder sitting on my computer desktop.  When I get a photo I really like, I make a copy of the original and pop the copy into the "specials" folder.  That way all my best gardening photos are kept to hand.  Same goes for family snaps. Simple.

I hope to be putting up my tree and dragging out the baubles this weekend - and enjoying plenty of mince pies and Bailey's as a reward.  Wishing you all a great weekend friends!

9 Dec 2009

Moss Milkshake …

There's something deeply adorable about moss - vibrant colour, velvety texture, strokeable and somewhat spooky - what's not to love?  I was, therefore, thrilled and inspired to find the blog of Emma Bond, who is a fellow member of the Blotanist online community and Landscape Designer (therefore eminently more experienced than li'l novice me) - and a pretty good photographer to boot!   Through her own love of moss, she's working hard to bring this little paragon of persistence back into popularity and written inspiringly on the subject (click here to read more on Emma's blog, The Orchard Studio - also found in my sidebar).  I'm especially taken with the idea of Moss Graffiti; Emma has sourced a 'recipe' from Guerilla Gardening blog Heavy Petal (link here) for a moss mix which can be used to encourage moss growth wherever your fancy takes you.  It was even seen in carpet form at the 2009 Milan Furniture Fair!

Hmm… I'm thinking about huggable moss walls for the Urban Veg Patch … I think this could be a project that the kids would really get behind!  Check out this look from Moss Acres via Emma Bond:

Love it!

8 Dec 2009

An elegance of lemons …

Still enthralled by my fine dining experience, I had to share this little bit of table elegance as it's something I haven't come across before. (I realise that I may be proving exactly how far removed my wellies really are from the rarefied kingdom of Martha Stewart devotees!)

Whenever the option of a squeeze of lemon has been presented to me, it's usually in the form of a slab of lemon on the side of my plate. At Fortnum's on Sunday, those who ordered smoked salmon as a starter received, as a garnish, half a lemon wrapped in muslin cloth and tied with an olive organza ribbon. Not only did this look very beautiful - and so refined! - turns out it's also enormously practical. The pips stay within the muslin and only you get the juice, as the muslin directs it to drip  onto your plate, rather than into the eyes of your fellow diners! Plus you can grip the lemon more easily and you get less lemon oil from the rind over your hands (however pleasant it may smell). The cost of the meal was probably worth that top tip alone. So obvious, but, wow, I just love that.  Oh, and by the way, that funny shaped bread at the back of the photo?  Reindeer's antlers, of course …! (Before being eaten - too yummy to ignore.) 

7 Dec 2009

Fine Dining (with Beetroot) …

I thought I was drawing a line under the culinary beetroot adventures last week but yesterday, as an early Christmas present, I joined my sister's family for some fine dining in the restaurant of a very renowned London retail establishment.  Among a very tempting choice of Starters, I spied (with my little eye): 'Salad of Cheltenham Beetroot, Caramelized Chicory (Endive) & Walnuts'.  Oooh!

Well, I had to give that a try and so, so glad I did - it was delicious! So much so that, despite dining protocol, I whipped out my camera and quickly snapped it, mid-munch.  Doesn't it look yummy? 

In addition to the more obvious ingredients, there was frisée lettuce and, I think, chopped spinach - or, more probably, baby beetroot leaves.  Sophie Grigson's recipe for caramelized chicory can be found here and uses butter, honey and freshly squeezed orange juice for roasting the chicory, which thickens into a coating sauce by the end of cooking.  (A quicker stir fry version can be found here.)The beetroot was absolutely scrumptious - whether because it was Cheltenham Beetroot (so growing those seeds next year!) or whether the way it was cooked (perhaps with Juniper berries and Bay?), I don't know.  I think some experimenting is called for.

I'm guessing the recipe but, if I'm right, I can recommend it as a very nice salad - whether on it's own or as part of a meal.  Gosh!  I'm converted!  Who'd have guessed?

Oh yes.  And where was this fine dining taking place, I hear you ask?

Given a small fortune burning a hole in my back pocket, I'd definitely go again.  I count myself fortunate indeed, even having gone once.  It was a trip back to a bygone age of impeccably polite staff, delicious food, and a relaxed ambience where you can be as unhurried as you wish.  And don't even get me started on the Ladies Powder Room!  By the way, if you're in London, their Christmas windows are fab - based on the theme of swans, which continues throughout the store.  Here's a spoiler:

Happy Monday everyone! 

1 Dec 2009

Christmas Soup!

Here it is!  Phase three of Getting to Know Beetroot:   
Beetroot and Parsnip Soup!
 (which will forever now be known as 'Christmas Soup')

I was going to post this last week but, when I saw how gorgeously Red, White and Festive it was, I had to save this for Day One of my Christmas Countdown.  First of December - Yay!

Back to the soup: I returned to the Good Food Channel (where I found the chocolate beetroot cake recipe) and tweaked their soup recipe to the amount of beetroot which I'd harvested. (I didn't want to pull up too much beetroot in case I didn't like the soup!)  As I only had a third of the beetroot required, the soup leans more towards the parsnip and carrot flavours but retains the beetroot colour which, I think, makes it a soup which children will love.   And this soup, for me, ticks many boxes:  looks, taste,  nutrition, ease of cooking. I never thought I'd hear myself saying that about beetroot!

Here's my version:
Parsnip and Beetroot Soup
 (heh, heh - note the subtle change of name)

For 4 good sized bowls, you will need:
150g Onion; 250g Carrots; 300g Parsnip (approx 2 medium); 700ml stock; 200g Cooked Beetroot; 1/2 tsp Garam Masala; Olive Oil; seasoning to taste; Dill & Yogurt for garnish.
  1. Cook beetroot and leave to cool before peeling and discarding stems and roots. Chop into smaller chunks.  Peel and chunk carrots and parsnips.  Slice onions.
  2. Heat oil in heavy based pan.  Add onions, carrots and parsnip. Stir to coat. Put on lid and sweat for 5 minutes until starting to soften.
  3. Add Garam Masala.  Stir in and cook for 2 minutes more.
  4. Add stock and beetroot.  Bring to boil then simmer for 20 minutes, lid off.
  5. When cool, blend soup until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt (drop in over the back of a spoon, as with Irish Coffee) and a sprinkling of finely chopped dill fronds.  (To make swirls, use a fine knife/ chopstick/ skewer. Dip into yogurt and pull the yogurt gently into the soup in small circles. Repeat.)
 And here it is in pictures!

Onion, Parsnip, Carrots about to be 'sweated'.

Stock and Beetroot added. Mmm, getting redder!

Simmering …

Cooled and ready to blend …

First tasting?  Wow!  Yum.
(You should know that I love parsnip and carrots.)
(And that I added a little more stock after this pic was taken, and adjusted the ingredients list accordingly.)
  1. The original recipe calls for Ground Coriander which I didn't have.  I used Garam Masala, which has about 50% ground coriander in it, and it was delicious. (It harmonises well with the parsnips.)
  2. My first bowl didn't have Dill in it and was very nice.  I bought Dill at the weekend for the soup and it added a whole new taste dimension, as did the yogurt - and both are quite important for the Christmas look!
  3. Did you know that Dill is traditionally the Ancient Sign of Fortune? Another reason to include it, I think!  (It is a herb described by Waitrose as "feathery fronds of fragrant flavour". Love that.)
  4. I used homemade chicken stock but if you use vegetable stock (or a veg stock cube), this recipe would be completely vegetarian.
Nutrition facts* that make this a very healthy soup:
Beetroot: A wonder food! A good source of soluble fibre, packed with Vitamins A, C and B6, and folic acid.  It is both an appetite stimulant, easily digested and contains an abundance of calcium, potassium, choline, organic sodium and natural sugars.  Helpful for anaemia, anxiety, fatigue, skin problems, liver problems, circulatory weakness, menstrual and menopausal problems, high and low blood pressure.

Parsnips: Another good source of fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals. The organic chlorine (not the sort used in swimming pools!) is a natural mineral and as such is used as a body cleanser. Parsnips are rich in sulphur and silicon which is very helpful for skin and hair health.  Parsnip juice is also very beneficial for anyone suffering from lung conditions, but small to medium sized parsnips are best for this.

Onion:  Rich in vitamin C, copper and iron, as well as sulphur, calcium and phosphorus.  The juice was used by the Romans for treating skin disease and healing wounds but is equally good for the immune system today!

* I firmly believe that being aware of what you eat is better than spending hours at the doctor's surgery.  I occasionally juice fruits and veg and the above facts are taken from a book called "Getting the Best out of your Juicer" by William H Lee.  Published in USA, it's not widely available in UK and  may be out of print.  I think I bought mine in a health shop about ten years ago.

I think that I've now probably had my fair share of the community beetroot, although there's still a few little ones left. Having discovered this soup, I shall finish my beetroot quest on a note of success and resolve to grow it again next year (sow under cover from March). So, no more beetroot recipes from me for now, especially as I hope to turn my attention towards Garden Inspired crafts in the Countdown to Christmas.

Caro x
PS. Sorry this is such a long post - I had a lot to say about this exciting soup!
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