The Proof is in the Pudding

Hold on to your hats – the fourth and final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries will be available from mid-October! In ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’, Christmas comes to Swaddlecombe and, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, and I have had a lot of fun re-visiting our fictional village of Swaddlecombe and seeing what Victoria and Albert, the Reverend Ruminant, Jean and pub landlords Roger and Trudy and have all been up to since the last instalment! It’s both exciting and scary as you never quite know where things will take you, the characters definitely develop minds of their own.

This fourth novel opens in the run up to Christmas – Victoria’s first country Christmas in deepest Devon. Everyone’s getting festive, especially Trudy and the triplets and Victoria finds herself on a Christmas wreath-making course – ooh, I wonder where that idea came from?! Julia wanted to write about dastardly doings with a glue gun, but I managed to talk her out of that – I am too squeamish!

Dear old Albert is busy cooking again and ‘feeding’ his Christmas pudding. A local vineyard ensures there’s plenty of wine to lubricate the proceedings, but does it also contribute to two ‘accidental’ deaths? You’ll have to try and work that out for yourselves…

All your messages of encouragement (and nagging!) have been much appreciated and have helped keep Julia and myself motivated. We’ve both had a difficult couple of years and, while the writing project did take a while to come to the top of the ‘work’ pile, it was always in our minds. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you who love the characters and have been so patient in waiting for book four.

‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will be available in Paperback and on Kindle mid-October and I promise to keep you posted on an exact launch date.

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A glutton for punishment

While growing your own veg is a wonderful and rewarding thing you can find yourself becoming a glutton for punishment. If you get too good at it, there can be one big problem – a glut! After weeks and months of nurturing, everything seems to ripen at the same time, so you have tonnes of tomatoes, more lettuces than Sainsbury’s and, possibly the worst of all,­ a mountain of courgettes! I don’t know what it is about courgettes, but they creep up on you. One minute you have one, the next 10 and at least two of those will have turned into marrows overnight.

The only thing to do with any glut is to ensure you have freezer space and some great recipe ideas to ring the changes and stop you getting completely bored with whichever veg is in glut.

I am currently wrestling with the annual courgette glut. Not only is my neighbour kindly giving me their excess, but I have quite a few of my own to contend with too. It is clearly a very well catalogued problem – there is even a book called ‘What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?’ obviously written by someone who has endured many a courgette excess.

If you haven’t got time to rustle up a delicious courgette soup or veggie bake, don’t despair – some genius has invented the spiralizer! If you haven’t tried courgetti yet, you’re in for a treat. Courgette spaghetti can be made and served in less time than it takes to make conventional pasta. All you need is a spiralizer or even just a vegetable peeler. You can turn the humble courgette into the perfect healthy meal in minutes with a couple of minutes (no more) in boiling water.

If you pick your courgettes before they get too big – about the length of your hand from palm base to finger tips – you don’t even need to cook them as they are delicious eaten raw if sliced, shaved or grated.

They are very versatile and can even put on a show on the BBQ – slice thickly and brush with oil and you can griddle them. Alternatively, braise slowly in butter with crushed garlic and thyme leaves and you get a delicious pasta sauce.

But if you really feel you are sinking beneath the weight of courgettes then why not knock up a batch of soup and freeze in portions, then you can remind yourself of summer when you tuck into a warming bowl in the depths of winter. Enjoy!

This Simple Courgette Soup really is very easy to make, it freezes well and is delicious with homemade bread. It is great eaten hot or cold!

Simple Courgette Soup:

Ingredients

  • 450g courgettes thickly sliced
  • 700ml chicken stock, or vegetable stock if you want to keep it completely vegetarian
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano (fresh is best!)
  • ¼ teaspoon rosemary (fresh is best!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to boil
  2. Reduce heat and cover and simmer for 15-20 mins
  3. Blend in blender/processor till smooth, reheat when ready to serve, or chill and serve cold.
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Beauty within…

If you were choosing your veg purely for their looks, I suspect celeriac would not be high on your list. It is knobbly, often muddy and all in all, a bit of an ugly beast. But don’t let that put you off!

Celeriac is a great winter vegetable. It combines rooty texture with a spicy celery flavour and is delicious roasted and also excellent for pepping up winter salads. You can roast it in chunks, add it to soups or make a rich mash as a change from potato.

Available all year round, celeriac is at its best from September to April. Choose a firm root that feels heavy for its size and avoid those that are discoloured. To prepare it, use a sharp knife, top and tail, then use a potato peeler to remove the tough skin. It’s quite hard going, but not as bad as a butternut squash!

Remoulade, a classic French salad, is really easy to make and also delicious. This recipe is dead easy – you might want to check how much mustard you add… I like it with a bit of a kick, but you may prefer less.

Ingredients

  • 7 tbsp good quality mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1 small celeriac about 600g (1lb 4oz-ish)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice together thoroughly. Add a generous sprinkling of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, so it all becomes one sauce.
  2. Peel and quarter the celeriac, then, working quickly, coarsely grate it and stir into the sauce until evenly coated. And that’s it! Serve on toast, or with a salad instead of coleslaw. It will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Cook’s tip: Celeriac is one of those vegetables that goes brown when cut up so, if preparing in advance, leave it in water with a dash of lemon juice.

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Winter garden inspiration

My partner in crime writing, Julia, moved house last autumn and is planning how she is going to design and plant up her new garden. I’ll let Julia tell you what she’s been up to…

One of the many Cornus to be seen at Rosemoor.

I am fortunate enough to live about half an hour away from RHS Garden Rosemoor, where they run talks and courses about all aspects of gardening. My new (new to me, anyway) garden is large, relatively empty, on a very slight incline and south facing… almost the complete opposite of my previous garden that was steep, terraced half in shade, and a frost pocket! My new house is also about 700ft above sea level so I am keen to try and ensure I buy the right plants for the garden.

As well as the right plants for the setting, I also want to try and ensure I have interest throughout the year. My old garden used to be at its best from May to July and pretty uninteresting the remainder of the time. So, my first session at Rosemoor was called ‘Winter colour for your garden’.

The amazing Acer griseum, the aptly named paper bark maple.

Their course brochure says: “Winter is often considered to be a closed season in the garden, but this definitely need not be the case. Colourful and fragrant flowers, striking barks and stems and a wide variety of evergreen plants all help to brighten up the garden and provide a wealth of interest throughout the winter. On this walk we will look at a good selection of plants, all of which are star performers during the winter months, and also discuss how to care for them.”

Luckily for me, the mid-February day was sunny and not too chilly. Rosemoor has a specific winter garden, and it was wonderful to see just how much colour and interest you can create. The thing that struck me most was the scent! I had no idea a winter garden could smell so wonderful. As the air was crisp, the mix of winter sun, birdsong and floral fragrance was just wonderful. Sarcococca is not a shrub I had encountered before, but I will definitely be buying some. Compact, evergreen shrubs with simple, leathery leaves and tiny, fragrant creamy-white flowers in winter or spring, followed by red, purple or black berries they smell divine. While I am familiar with Daphne, it’s another winter flowering plant whose fragrance I had not really appreciated.

Dramatic Camelia.

As well as scent, you need colour. While Camelias are a good bet for dramatic flowers, I was drawn more towards the coloured stems of Cornus, or dogwood as I have always called it, their bright red and yellow stems looking wonderful against a dark hedge or fence in deepest winter. Dogwoods is pretty wonderful all ways around, having blossoms, berries and, when you prune back the stems, providing beautifully coloured whips that you can use to make woven shapes and decorations.

I am lucky enough to have space to plant some trees. Witch hazels, or Hamamelis to use the proper name, are a delight with their fuzzy brightly coloured flowers and attractive scent. They also tend not to grow too large so they are definitely on my list. A tree that I fell instantly in love with at Rosemoor was a paper bark maple, Acer griseum, a beautiful tree with cinnamon-coloured peeling bark. I don’t think I’d ever seen anything quite like it.

Sarcococca confusa… I think!

At the end of our walk and talk, we were given a comprehensive plant list… this is, of course, fatal, as you feel you want to rush out and buy everything on it! I didn’t and am instead trying to draw out a proper plan of what to plant where as I won’t be able to do much in the garden until late summer anyway due building work going on. As an RHS member, I receive discounted rates on any walks or courses I go on. If you live near an RHS garden, it really is worth becoming a member… or get to know someone who is as they can also get you the discounted rate!

In lieu of a holiday this year, I have booked myself on a series of these events looking at what to grow throughout the seasons and, as I am now the proud owner of a greenhouse, how to manage cuttings and collecting seeds. Planting a new garden can be terribly expensive, but if you can grow from seed and take cuttings you can keep the cost down. If you don’t live near an RHS garden, there are hundreds of videos online and hints and tips to refer to. The RHS website, as Joanna has said before, is always worth looking at, as are the BBC Gardening sites. And apart from anything else, gardening is just so good for you!

 

 

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All wrapped up!

I seem to have spent a great deal of my life surrounded by bubble wrap – let’s just clarify that – I said ‘surrounded by’ not ‘wrapped in’! Running a business that posts out thousands of items by mail, bubble wrap is an essential product for protecting fragile objects.

While this is clearly what it was designed for, did you know there are many other wonderful ways you can use it too? As bubble wrap contains lots of little pockets of air, it is a great insulator as well as highly effective padding.

Keeping food cold

Cool bags are great, cool boxes even better, but they are expensive and can be cumbersome. If you just keep a sheet of bubble wrap lying flat in the back of your car, you can prevent your cold or iced foods from getting too warm by lining your shopping bags with it. It also works to keep hot foods warm, so great when you are driving home with a takeaway curry!

Insulating glass

Throughout the winter months, bubble wrap is ideal for lining your greenhouse to help keep heat in. And it’s not just great for plants, if you’re feeling chilly and there’s an annoying draft, you can tape a sheet of bubble wrap across a window – instant insulation for little or no cost, and it still lets the light in.

Hand cushions

That may sound a bit odd, but bubble wrap is perfect for creating makeshift hand cushions. Whether you want to add more comfort to the handles of crutches, a shopping bag or gardening tools, it will stop you getting sore palms.

Knee cushions

OK, I admit this isn’t going to be the fashion trend of the year, but you can tape patches of it to the knees of your trousers and use them as protective pads in the garden!

Protecting your plants

Bubble wrap your outdoor plants the night before a frost to keep them protected, much cheaper than garden fleece and very effective.

Outside taps

Securely wrap your outside/garden taps, and any exposed pipe work with bubble wrap, and fix with something like gaffer tape – job done for the winter!

Relieving stress!

And finally… bubble wrap has to be the best stress reliever ever! I should know, I have popped my way through yards and yards of it over the years!

So, the next time you have a delivery of something precious and the box is full of bubble wrap… think before you throw it away!

Photo copyright: www.eoartlab.com; joannabanana; www.diligentgardener.co.uk; www.builditsolar.com; www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

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