Monday, 29 June 2009

a mini harvest

I was feeling a bit gloomy after yesterday's realisation that I might have been the author of my own misfortune as far as the beans were concerned so I came home from work, poured myself a glass of Prosecco (in my defence, the only cold drink we had in the house ... and it was very warm) and set about tending the plants.

Part of the watering problem is about the logistics of getting to the pots inside the aviary beneath the jungle of leaves. I decided to make a watering device - not the technical term I know - for the courgettes.

Firstly cut the end off a plastic drinks bottle and remove the lid. I've used a litre bottle here (San Pellegrino dahling), but a bigger one would be better I think.

Then up-end the bottle, and push the neck into the soil near your plants. You can fill this with water easily, and they will drink as much as they need. I'm considering developing a more complex version for while I'm away at Lambfest.

I’m already using these with good effect on the tomatoes, so hopefully they’ll be just what I need. I’ve also been spraying the beans like a crazy person trying to keep them moist enough to set. It’s amazing what a girl can get up to without any distractions of an evening.

I mentioned I’d planted nasturtiums as companions to my tomatoes, sort of sacrificial plants offered up to the aphids. As it happens they’re going from strength to strength. It was a handful of these peppery leaves and a few scant French beans which went along with the first cut of spinach beets to make our first salad supper from the terrace.

I’d practically given up on the spindly spinach, but encouraged by the little tender crop above I’ve moved it out of the shade of the courgettes, and given it a pretty vigorous chop in the hope it will come back stronger. I’m slightly dubious, and feel guilty about the sullen stumps which remain, but surely they don’t call it ‘cut and come again’ for nothing ...

Sunday, 28 June 2009

trial by triffid

The plants have been unhappy. I mentioned a while ago that I'd been neglecting them, and though I've upped my game slightly, all is not well in our aviary-cum-vegetable patch.

My most pressing problems are the runner beans and the courgettes. Each of them are flowering beautifully, but failing to set. The bright red runner bean flowers can be seen in abundance, but as yet only four skinny baby beans have developed, the rest of the buds fall off without having quite gained the enthusiasm to produce. The courgettes too remain unconvincing, after reaching around an half inch in length they wither and fall off the stem.

Internet research tells me that the beans problem at least is my fault, insufficent moisture on the leaves and buds. Henceforth I'll be spraying them with a little sugar water every day to keep them sweet. I'll let you know how I get on.

It's not all bad news mind. She and I sampled a little taste of our first Battersea potatoes earlier this week which were sweet, firm and slightly peppery. By rights it should be harvest time very soon. The tubers need a couple of hours in the sun before being bagged up, and I've not yet managed to find a suitable chunk of time to do this. I'm insanely curious about how many there are tucked down in the soil.

Finally the hanging baskets are a great pleasure. I planted two up with English thyme, garden mint and alpine strawberries a month or so ago, and another with a tumbling tom and they're going great guns. I am envisaging a summer of G&Ts with thyme syrup and mojitos to come.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

thai-ish ≤ten

I have learnt from previous experience that food shopping under the influence of alcohol is a Bad Idea ... but having accidentally consumed too much beer I found myself wandering the aisles of Asda in Clapham Junction at midnight on Tuesday, searching for inspiration for last night's ≤ten. I'd been meeting Lu out east for her new Mister's gig at the Slaughtered Lamb ... I can recommend both the music and the man himself. Top marks.

Anyway, the resultant malteaser-fuelled shopping trip yielded a supper of coconut poached salmon, pak choi and jasmine rice. Which ended up a little something like this ...

Coconut poached salmon ... for 8

2 tins coconut milk
small cup water
1.25kg salmon fillets cut into large cubes
2 stalks lemongrass roughly cut diagonally
2 inch piece of galangal roughly sliced
4 cloves garlic peeled and roughly sliced
big pinch of sugar
4 small red chillis chopped
handful of basil leaves (it should be thai basil really, but I had some ordinary stuff spare so in it went)
5 kaffir lime leaves
juice of two limes
3 tbsp thai fish sauce
handful chopped fresh coriander

Infuse the coconut milk with the lemongrass, galangal, garlic and sugar in a large pan - I had this just beneath bubbling for about 20 minutes

Add the kaffir lime leaves and the chillli, and infuse for a further 10 mins - to be honest, we were waiting for latecomers, so I must have had this going for about 45 minutes in total, but less is fine
When you're good to go, put the rice on, and at the same time add the fish, the lime juice and the fish sauce to the coconut milk

Bring it up to a simmer, keep an eye on it adding a little more water if you need to ... and it should be ready by the time the rice is cooked and drained. Throw into the chopped coriander and you're there.

It's hardly worth writing a recipe for the pak choi - 2tbsp sesame oil in the wok, four finely sliced cloves of garlic ... once the oil is hot, add the pak choi which is cut into thick ribbons (I think I used five heads, two red and three green). It'll only take five minutes, so if you're making the full menu then just start it off once the salmon is poaching.

In theory it should be hot, sour and salty. I'd been expecting a non-meat eating contingent, hence the salmon, but I think chicken could probably stand up to the flavours a little better. I'll confess the quantities were a little off, had the late (and brave) addition to our party not already eaten a starter I think we might have struggled, as it was there was just enough to go round nine.

Apart from the slightly mean portions, the night was lovely, plenty of catching up ... a small amount of grilling, and some very kind gifts from my guests.

Friday, 5 June 2009

notes on a detox ...

Firstly, I have been absent of late. A combination of the detox diet and the arrival of Miss Jones from SA has set my cookery slightly off plan. Happily ≤ten has kick started me again and I am busily plotting tonight's supper.

I'm pretty anti-fads when it comes to healthy eating etc, and though I'm not sure that a detox actually cleanses your body of toxins, it did give She and I an opportunity to think about what we were eating more carefully. I won't be continuing with avocados and rye bread for brekkie, but there are a few favourites which have worked their way onto our menu for good. Essentially the plan revolved around no wheat, little dairy, much less caffeine, and plenty of fresh raw food

The best of all was a simple salad - smoked mackerel, beetroot, asparagus, avocado and watercress with a squeeze of lemon juice and a spoon of hummus.

Also scoring highly was the porridge. I'm definitely a porridge for brekkie kind of a girl, but had noticed that the pinch of salt and spoonful of sugar I mix into mine had gradually become larger and larger. The recipe I'll be using from now on follows ...

2tbsp porridge oats
splash milk
2tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
1/2 grated apple
sprinkling of cinnamon

It's pretty self explanatory, I make the porridge in the microwave - one minute on high then a stir, then another 20 seconds - then mix in the yoghurt, apple and cinnamon. I didn't think I could eat it without salt, but this does me just fine.

The spirulina will also be staying, as will decaf tea with soya milk ... out of character I know, but there's something about the combination which makes it acceptable. Less successful were buckwheat noodles, which appear to just be a massive pain in the neck to cook with, and risotto with neither wine nor fat.

All in all, a 7/10.