‘Vegging out’ is good for you!

It’s been a very mild, wet winter here in Devon and I haven’t been able to get out in the garden much at all as the ground has been so saturated. My lovely raised beds that Richard constructed for me last Autumn are sitting empty and calling to me to be planted. So far, I have had to keep my green fingers occupied by leafing through seed catalogues and Googling different varieties of veggies… but very soon it will be time for me to make a start!

I find Sutton Seeds (coincidentally, Suttons are based just down the road from me near Paignton) Facebook page and blogs very useful for ideas and for advising when to get on and do things. I was interested to see that they have designed a special range of vegetable and flower seeds with 25p from the sale of each promotional pack going to Cancer Research UK. Not only is this a vary commendable idea, it also links in to the fact that the actual act of gardening is good for us – in so many ways.

Here are some interesting facts from the Cancer Research UK website:

  • Around 3,400 cases of cancer in the UK each year could be prevented by keeping active.
  • Heavy gardening counts as moderate activity
  • Healthier diets could help prevent 1 in 10 cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and can affect the risk of some cancer types, like mouth and throat cancers.
  • Choose fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours to help you include a broad range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. The chemicals that give these foods their colour are often the same ones that are good for you.

So gardening and growing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can play their part in keeping us healthy. And let’s face it, being outside in the fresh air is always an uplifting experience. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of wild birds, they can really enhance your gardening experience too!

Sigh… no, not my veg beds, but the most perfect veg garden ever at RHS Rosemoor in North Devon. They even have Peter Rabbit!A total of 15 different packets make up Sutton’s special range. Each packet contains 2 varieties. This helps to broaden the range of vitamins and minerals and also the range of colours. For example, the Mangetout Pea packet contains both Shiraz and Oregon varieties and so will produce both deep purple and vibrant green pods. Attractive, tasty and healthy!

I really enjoy my veg, so being able to grow my own will be thrilling and the flavours really are so much more intense than shop bought examples. I don’t have a great deal of space, so I will think carefully about what I grow and there’s lots of excellent advice online. If you don’t have a garden, or only a very small one, you can still grow all sorts of vegetables in tubs and window boxes.

To view the Cancer Research UK Vegetable Seed Range in full, please click here.

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The wonder of herbs!

There’s no denying it, I am a bit of a herb fanatic. They tick so many boxes – they can transform your cooking, save you lots of money over shop-bought herbs and they often look wonderful too!

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 growers were asked to highlight some of their favourite ornamental herbs that offer attractive foliage and/or flowers. Here are some of their suggestions 

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
This architectural plant, which can exceed 2m in height, is equally at home in the border or the herb garden. Its stems and roots are edible 

Australian mint bush (Prosanthera rotundifolia)
In late spring, this tender shrub is smothered in bell-shaped, purple flowers. Its foliage has a very strong menthol smell, and the leaves can be used in oils and infusions.

Creeping pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
This tiny, low-growing mint looks lovely planted in cracks in a pathway, and is said to repel ants and mice. It’s similar to spearmint and has purple-lilac flowers in summer.

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium yezoense var. hidakanum ‘Purple Rain’)
Jacob’s Ladder used to be used for all kinds of medicinal purposes but today, it’s mostly grown as an ornamental. This variety has unusual bronze leaves and bright blue flowers and makes an excellent border plant. 

Pygmy borage (Borage pygmaea)
Borage can reach a quite a size in the garden, so if space is at a premium, try this dwarf variety. The star-shaped blue or white flowers have a cucumber taste and can be added to summer drinks and salads. Bees adore it.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
This semi-evergreen perennial has small, red, globe-shaped flowers and leaves that have a cucumber flavour – I use it in salads. It does best in sun or partial shade and makes a great border filler.

Pictured from the top: Angelica, Australian mint bush, creeping pennyroyal, pygmy borage and salad burnet. 

 

 

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Lobster bisque – no longer a luxury!

I am lucky to live near the sea and fishing ports down here in Devon, so really fresh lobster is easy to come by. Having said that, the big supermarkets are not only stocking more lobsters but the prices, certainly over Christmas, were amazingly cheap and it is much more available than it was.

Apart from the standard way of serving the soup – hot in a bowl – how about chilling it overnight and then serving as a canapé in little shot glasses? I thought it was a fun alternative to some of my standard canapés.

This recipe is quite easy and the key to its success is to whizz it very thoroughly. I have a stick blender that I use (yes bought from Ideal World!) or you could use a liquidiser instead. But it is important that the soup is smooth and creamy.

Recipe

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic (or more if you love garlic!)
  • 2 shallots and 3 spring onions finely chopped
  • 4 large tablespoons(!) white wine
  • 2-3 teaspoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons (or your choice) Tabasco sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 dried bay leaves
  • 6 large tablespoons sherry (any kind I find is good)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Knorr concentrated liquid stock
  • 8 ounces of hot water, 2 ounces tomato purée
  • 2 ounces butter and 16 ounces double cream
  • 8-10 ounces of cooked lobster meat

Method

  1. Use a frying pan and sauté the onions and garlic in the oil for a minute or two. Now add the white wine and stir well.
  2. Add the Lea & Perrins, hot sauce and dried thyme and sauté again for say a minute or so. Now add the sherry and stir around well, gathering any bits that have caught on the pan.
  3. Add the hot water, concentrated stock and paprika. Add the bay leaves and tomato purée and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Make sure it is not boiling, add the cream and butter with a whisk, then bring to a gentle boil. Finally add the lobster and simmer until it is heated through. Now use a stick blender or liquidiser and whizz till completely velvety and smooth.
  5. Serve in bowls with crusty bread or try chilling overnight and serving in shot glasses as a canapé. Delicious!

 

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The Ethicurean

It is rare that I go out for a meal with friends or family and come home bouncing and raving about how fabulous it was both as an experience and as a delicious meal. Well this week I did just that. We had two American friends to stay and to contrast with their fast, flashy Los Angeles lifestyle, we went to The Ethicurean in Barley Wood Walled Garden near Bristol.

I can honestly say that the food was something I will remember for a very long time and the view, wow! It just stretched for miles! Basically, this is a garden designed and built in the early 1900s for the Wills family (of cigarette fame). The old orangery has been turned into a restaurant and some of the outbuildings converted into craft workshops. The decor in the orangery is gentle, reminiscent of times gone by, and just wonderful.

The enthusiastic waitresses were both charming and very sweet – for example our waitress gently said to my American friend when he tried to add a 20% tip onto the bill, no sir, that’s too much just half that would be very generous. Well, how many times have you heard that?

Everything – and I mean everything – is home grown or raised by friends and locals. Home made drinks, bread, food – all from garden to table – yum! I had a welsh rarebit for starters, then some Cornish hake followed by local blue cheese with quince jelly. Richard chose beef followed by a sticky toffee apple pudding that I suspect he will mention over and over again (sigh) and yes, they do a cookery book and, no, I don’t know if the recipe is in there!

I took a few pictures, my apologies if my camera skills aren’t quite what they should be but you can get the gist of it – I just wanted to share with you all! Contented smiles!

PS. An ‘ethicurean’ is someone who attempts to combine ethical food consumption with an interest in epicureanism, eating ethically without depriving oneself of taste – and yes, I had to look it up!

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The wonders of seaweed!

Julia with her lovely terrier appropriately named Seaweed!I first met Julia Horton-Powdrill on a writing course, some six years ago. I was there with my partner in crime writing Julia Wherrell (you don’t meet a Julia for years and then two come along at once!) and we have stayed in touch ever since. Julia H-P lives in St David’s in Pembrokeshire where she runs foraging courses, writes novels and runs the ‘Really Wild Food Festival’ – one busy lady! Julia W went to visit earlier this month as she was collecting her new puppy from the area (and that’s another blog coming soon!), so she thought she’d ask Julia H-P about foraging and one of her major passions – seaweed!

While I enjoy growing my own veg and picking the odd mushroom and wild berry, I really am not very knowledgeable about wild plants and food for free, so I was interested to hear how Julia H-P first got into foraging.

“I was pretty much born to it!” she says. “My father studied botany and zoology at Cambridge, and then became a GP in a rural practice in south east Wales. In those days, GPs still ‘did the rounds’ and had time to pause and appreciate their surroundings so my father would often come home with foraged plants and mushrooms for our tea. I remember him bringing home elvers fresh out of the local river once, but mother thought they were revolting, so that was not one of his better efforts!

“He was also very keen on seaweed, as am I, but it wasn’t until after he died that I made a rather significant discovery. I was going through his belongings when I came across a wonderful collection of seaweeds that he’d gathered from around Anglesey back in the 1930s. It is quite probable that some of these seaweeds no longer grow in the area, so I plan to donate them to the National Museum of Wales. They already have his beetle collection anyway!”

So what is it that’s so marvellous about seaweed, I wondered? Julia’s lovely country-style kitchen is draped with the stuff – all different shapes and sizes and colours, she breaks off bits and chews them as she talks and describes how she uses them in soups and stews. Her pantry is neatly stocked with jars of it too, and there are packs stored in the freezer.

“I use it a lot adding bits here and there to dishes as different seaweeds have different flavours and textures and, of course, being Welsh, I make lava bread! It takes some time to identify different seaweeds and to know how to clean and dry and store them, but if you are interested, you can buy books on it, or look it up – it’s all there online these days. And one of the great things about seaweed is you can just stop and try a bit – have a nibble on the beach if you want to – it is never going to harm you, none of it is poisonous.”

As well as appearing on the BBCs Countryfile earlier this month, Julia has been on other TV shows and, perhaps most memorably, been filmed sitting in a seaweed bath with The One Show presented Alex Jones! “Seaweed is terribly good for your skin,” Julia explains. “It is full of all sorts of vitamins and minerals, so run a good hot bath, stick in the seaweed and hey presto – a wonderful natural beauty treatment!” 

Multi-skilling seaweed!
We come across products containing seaweed quite often but are usually completely unaware of it. You will find it in some brands of cosmetics, ice cream, toothpaste and various food stuffs. It is also in bath preparations and is widely used as a fertilizer.

You can follow Julia’s foraging exploits here.

Her wild food festival here. 

Her new novel here. 

 

 

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