And so, September…

The trusty hydrangea, attractive whatever stage it’s at!

I always feel September really is the turn of the year. There’s that Autumnal nip in the air, the earth smells different – richer somehow – and the days become noticeably shorter. It’s a time of year when you could start to feel melancholy if you weren’t careful. But rather than feel a gathering gloom, reflect and take a moment to savour… and then think of it as a time to plan ahead. The children have started their new school year and it’s harvest festival time, so that means home made harvesting projects like jams and preserves – so there’s plenty to do!

I used to find my garden looking rather forlorn at this time of year. To counter this, I made a point of ensuring I had plenty of plants that come into their own in the Autumn.

Fuchsia, always so pretty.

Hydrangeas became terribly unfashionable a few years ago, but I have always loved them – they are such good value! They go on and on flowering well into September and, nowadays there are so many stunning varieties to choose from, you are spoilt for choice. Allow the final flower heads of the year to stay on the plant, to provide winter interest… and I am sure I don’t need to tell you how wonderful they are dried in arrangements, or sprayed silver and gold for Christmas.

Fuchsias, so very pretty (I thought they looked like ballerinas when I was a child) cannot fail to brighten any garden. Make sure you choose a late-flowering variety such as ‘Marinka’ and you’re guaranteed extra autumn colour.

Japanese anemones.

I have become a recent convert to Japanese anemones, they look so elegant and delicate, yet they flower from August until late October and look fabulous at every stage. Whether tight bud, long-lasting flower or neatly spherical seed head, the Japanese anemone manages it perfectly. There are lots of lovely colours to choose from they are a really uplifting choice!

Try not to be too enthusiastic with the shears and secateurs (I know it’s tempting!) there are lots of flower heads you can leave on over winter to add interest. Here’s a few to leave and admire:

  • Hydrangeas (obviously!)
  • Teasels
  • Nigella
  • Nigella seed head.

    Echinops

  • Eryngiums
  • Artichokes
  • Poppies

And if you are still looking for positive things to do… start planting your spring bulbs!

 

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Tasting olive oil and rocket fuel!

Continuing my holiday adventures…

Yesterday, we docked at a town called Kotor in Montenegro. It was quaintly medieval in many places and very beautiful. I will admit to complete ignorance about Montenegro, the only time I have heard of it was as part of the Eurovision Song Contest but that’s faintly embarrassing! The tour we chose took us around the town and on to a small family olive oil producer.

Left to right: Here I am taking a wander around the old town of Kotor. Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. The olive grove.

Our first stop, once we arrived on the farm, was to meet Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. Mischka is 18 (on the right) and expecting a baby donkey soon and we shared some of the little welcome doughnuts we had been handed. We didn’t share the welcome drink we were given, I took one sip and immediately passed the rest of the glass to Richard… 50 per cent proof home made brandy… made variously from grapes, apples, plums or, I suspected, any fruit they had handy. It wasn’t unpleasant but wow it blew your head off! They didn’t call it rocket fuel for nothing!

We then moved on to the 300-year-old olive press and machinery, so beautiful, and lovely that it has been preserved. There was a careful explanation of how the oil is extracted. The rubbish/paste left over they reuse as compost material and animal feed. They had goats and sheep for cheese and rabbits for… OK, I will gloss over that one but I kind of assume they may not have kept 20 or so rabbits as pets. They showed us their brand new modern machinery, much less work for the donkeys than the old version, hence their transfer to weed management!

Then we had a lesson on how to taste olive oil and a serious lecture on how the stuff we are all buying is very unlikely to be proper olive oil as most of the supermarkets sell oils that are hugely blended and taste nothing like proper olive oil. Well having tasted some I suspect he was right, it was far fruitier and a little more peppery than the big bottles I buy in Tesco… and a 100cl bottle cost 3 euros direct from the farm, so that is about £25 a litre. Hmm, now what do I pay, about £4.99 at most for a litre. So I may change my ways, I’ll look more carefully when I get home.

Left to right: The old and the new olive presses… and the finished product.

They then gave us a gorgeous lunch, with cheese from their sheep, prosciutto ham made at home by the mother, eggs from their chickens and some lightly battered courgettes. Followed by apple cake (yup made by Mum) and Turkish coffee (fab if you like strong coffee). The cheese was interesting. One was a pale soft cheese which tasted like a mild Lancashire or something along those lines. Then they take some of those cheeses and place them in wire mesh cages and hang them over the patio (!) for three weeks. This dries them out and they then immerse them in olive oil. The resulting cheese was quite firm and almost had the strength of a Parmesan.

Then back to the ship where we found an invitation to eat with the captain tonight, aha … maybe I can persuade him to try card making, he already does various crafts like wood carving etc. in his spare time… so who knows!

The photo at the top is of the beautiful fish filled river and ponds in the town of Kotor.

 

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Rebel, rebel!

I hate wasting food. I always fear my grandmother will send a bolt of lightning down if I waste so much as a crust. But I have a slight problem… I am off on holiday and I have way, way too much food in the house, but I do not want to throw it away. Well, I have got braver over the years and despite my grandmother’s dire warnings of what happens if you waste food, I do occasionally give up on things, but not if I can avoid it.

But, argh, you have no idea how badly my food planning has worked out over the past few days. Over the weekend I was expecting to feed a lot more people than it transpired I actually had to. I also reckon I was half asleep when I did my last online Tesco shop. So… I have very little time and an awful lot of food! What to do?

Runner beans:

I’m not taking the blame for the mass I have of these – it’s that time of year and I don’t buy them, they appear magically in my garden! Now I have always thought you had to blanch veggies before freezing, well guess what, seems you don’t! I agree it will probably be at most three months before I use these as we will pounce on them once we return. Maybe the blanching is more important if you are leaving them in the freezer for a year, but I have experimented and they are fine unblanched. So beans… get slicing. One food item down, several to go.

Eggs:

I have talked about freezing eggs before. I often have an omelette for breakfast in my trusty omelette maker that I wrote about here. So I am freezing two lightly beaten eggs and a couple of twists of salt – pink Himalayan salt actually. No, I can’t believe it is any better for you but hey I like pink, it pleases me! So gently mix that lot and pour into a little container. I had 10 eggs left and so have 5 little containers waiting for the next time I plan to have an omelette for breakfast. In the same size containers I froze spring onions that can go with it. That’s another foodstuff ticked off!

Assorted fruit:

What do you do with multiple grapefruit, satsumas, pineapple, and watermelon, oh and not forgetting the butternut squash? (Told you I wasn’t concentrating on my last Tesco shop). Butternut squash, chop into small chunks (ready for roasting or adding to a soup mix) and freeze flat then bag. Pineapple likewise. Grapefruit and satsumas, chop them into small chunks too, trim off any pith and freeze flat, then bag. These are delicious floated in a glass of sparkling water (or still water come to that) and as I drink many bottles of that every week, result!

The final hurdle was the massive watermelon – that wasn’t really my fault either! Sometimes they are quite small but this one could house a couple of small people if you hollowed it out – well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture! Thank you, Mr. Tesco for £2.50! So I got out my trusty Nutribullet (or any other blender will do), removed a few of the pips and then gradually blitzed the lot. Result – several containers of melon juice. This is lovely served cold and is a happy freezer inhabitant!

So now I am wondering about freezing leftover beer and wine – oh, wait! It seems that despite the lack of visitors, there wasn’t any …. (I’m teetotal, so take a guess who’s responsible!)

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Your frugal freezer!     

The amount of food that we waste in the Western world is really quite shocking. I do try not to buy too much but there are still times when things do end up in the bin as they have sat in the fridge for too long.

As you know, I am a bit of a freezer fan and I have blogged about freezing your own produce before. But your freezer is not just great for your own produce it’s also a good way to help you cut waste by being a bit canny… Here are some ideas I hope you’ll find useful.

Bread

If you tap sliced loves on the worktop before freezing, it helps the slices come apart more easily when taking them out of the freezer. You can also divide a sliced loaf up into smaller batches and freeze 4 or 8 slices. Convenient to take out use and also easier to store than a big bulky loaf.

Fruit

Slice lemons and limes, bag and freeze already to drop into your G&T. You can also freeze grapes and berries and make fun ice cubes – I love this idea!

Eggs

I’ve touched on eggs before, but I thought this was worth passing on: Separate yolks from whites and put them into food bags (sturdy zip lock ones are probably best) before freezing, handy for baking. Alternatively, you can beat the eggs before freezing and store in a plastic container all ready for scrambled eggs or an omelette.

Chillies

Freeze them whole and then you can chop or grate them directly into whatever you are cooking. Simples!

Meat

Separate with greaseproof paper so sausages and rashers of bacon don’t stick together.

Get it write!

I know it sounds a bit dull, but it is important to label what you freeze. You can buy indelible marker pens easily these days. I keep one in the kitchen, especially for freezing stuff. Write what it is and the date you froze it. Let’s be honest we’ve all had that moment where we’ve defrosted what we’ve thought was one thing and discovered it was another. I think my worst one was defrosting what I thought was stewed apple to make a crumble… only to find it was marrow. Fail.

Wrap it up

Again, boring but essential. Proper wrapping prevents freezer burn that can do horrid things to texture and colour. ‘Portion meals’ (like lasagne or shepherd’s pie) work well in foil trays. If you are freezing food for a short time, then plastic bags and cling film are fine. Remember to never put glass in the freezer!

Fill it up

A freezer is more economical to run if it is full. Fill free space with plastic bottles half filled with water.

If you’ve got too much of something, always think ‘freezer’ before you think ‘bin’!

 

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Super Sunday cook up!

I really enjoy having a mass Sunday cook up so I have meals prepared for the week and to keep feeding my freezer, sadly it is getting a bit full now so I may have to slow down!

This time of year is very veg heavy for anyone that likes growing things in the garden. I have a very clever, enthusiastic recent convert to gardening for a husband and a doubly enthusiastic, so experienced he could be on Gardener’s World, neighbour. My neighbour has acres of garden and grows a vast amount of produce (by yours and my little standards) and he is so kind and generous with both his time to discuss gardening traumas and also sharing produce. We share ours too!

So this weekend, I had potatoes, Kestrel and Charlotte varieties, some strange heirloom carrots in cream, yellow and orange. Runner beans, French beans, spring onions, lettuce (three carrier bags stuffed full) and radishes. Then my neighbour popped round and brought me another carrier bag of apples, a huge bowl of raspberries (wow!) and more courgettes.

Now I hate wasting food, especially organic home grown yumminess …. So I had to get a plan! I have limited space in my freezer so it had to be a compact plan! The lettuce I really liked in the lettuce soup that I posted about recently but I would end up with oh so many containers. So I took a short cut and did the first stage of the soup, by wilting the lettuce in chicken stock and then pureeing. That way I only had 5 containers to store!  The apples, hmm, well despite my daughter suggesting her horse ‘needed’ a constant supply of apples, these were too delicious to part with but we don’t eat many puddings these days (dieting grumble, grumble!) so I turned the apples into apple purée and am going to freeze it in little containers that can either turn into apple sauce or be added to parsnip and apple soup.

Then I started on shepherd’s pies to use some of the potatoes and added squash to the mash. Then I made quiches, one for this week and one will just have to freeze, they are ok defrosted but improve with reheating. I now have close to zero room in my freezer but it feels as though I have had a good and successful day – phew!

 

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