Sunday, 31 May 2009

Feeling hot,hot, hot

but we shouldn't moan, its a welcome change from all the rain we've been having. We spent about 6 hours at Plot 45 today. We got a lot and I mean a lot done for a day like this. So not many photographs today. But let me assure you everyhting in plot 45 is looking blooming marvellous. The peas are starting to flower, so are the tomatoes in the greenhouse. The potato leaves are looking sturdy, the beetroot and parnsip seem to be doing okay, the carrots and the strawberries are my main stars.

Today, we built some wigwams and a frame for the neckar, blauhilde and blue lake climbing beans, planted out the courgettes and baby golden apple baby pumpkins, fennel and marigolds. Along with the usual chore of weeding of nettle and horsetail.

We had to borrow a fellow neighbours waterhose today as lugging the watering can back and fro was taking its toll on me.
Finally saw a few bees buzzing around the herbs and lupins. Even managed to capture one on camera.

My experience of Farmers Markets

The first time I had come across farmers markets was when I went to visit my friend Leah in Berkeley, America in 2000. She took me out to local farmers market and I was in awe at the colour and vibrancy of the vegetables and fruit, the enthusiasm of the stall holders whether they were selling radishes or homemade tamales and the genuine interest expressed by the people shopping there. It was buzzing.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that farmers market were being established in Scotland, this was about 7 years ago, as I support the principle of buying direct from the producer and supporting the local economy, it started with about six stalls to an impressive twenty stalls. But as the years passed by I grew despondent to the farmers market offerings. Please note this was well before I got my allotment in late 2006.

No criticism about any of the products on showcase or any of the stalls, I am confident all are good. But its charm was starting to wear off on me. Every time I went I would see the same thing, people selling homemade jams, soups, quiches, tarts and cakes. Some caught my eye, especially if it used an ingredient that I had not tasted or cooked with before; and some did not. Amongst this there were also some confectionery, craft and marinated olive stalls. I didn’t mind forking out some of my hard earned cash for good artisan bread, cheese and a bag of Braeburn apples, but after a while the novelty wore out. Also as a non meat eater, the butchers, the fish stalls and burger vans did not appeal to me at all.

The more I frequented local farmers markets, it struck me that there was a lack of seasonal vegetable offerings. It appeared to me to be the only farmers market which lacked fresh produce, mainly vegetables. Could no one else see the irony? The last time I went to a farmers market was in 2005 in Helensburgh and I came home with a bundle of rhubarb.

I often get excited when I see TV food shows such as Simon Rimmers This Little farmer went to market or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showcasing UK farmers markets where they have chilli stalls with various offerings, variety of tomatoes, lettuces, courgettes, beetroots and so on. Or after hearing about a local food festival or reading about the best farmers market in the UK. Such news always excites me, however, the farmers markets I have been to in the past have been standard fare and rather disappointing on arrival. However, I am willing to give them another go, especially after reading A Taste of Tottenham and fran39 expeditions to her local farmers market and some of her interesting finds. I have decided to give the farmers market here another go. There were few this weekend, accessible if you have a car in the West of Scotland.

This morning we decided to go along to the farmers market in Renfew to see if it fared any better and offered new delights that would excite and revive my interest in farmers markets again.

The result this morning was pitiful, out of nine stalls only five were there. Pitiful. I can say no more. I may give farmers market another shot, but it will be a while before I do.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Meet farro and feta with...

A fellow food blogger sent me some farro which was gratefully appreciated. I did a little bit of research into farro, it is an Italian grain and still relatively unknown in the UK. According the Paul Gayler it is known in the UK as spelt. Farro looks a bit like barley, but finer and darker, and the texture of farro when cooked is chewy and toothsome.
I thought it was going to be a health salad, and maybe it is, but it was quite delicious. I really enjoyed it and what’s more D enjoyed it too, which was a surprise because he is not a big fan of cous cous or quinoa.
I decided to make a recipe from the brilliant 101 cookbooks as I had some butternut squash and walnut oil. I have tweaked the recipe a little though, as I did not have all the ingredients, namely goats cheese, walnuts and red onions. So this is my homely version of Farro, feta and roasted butternut squash. We had it for a light meal. Good for a hot, hot day when all you want to do is sit and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. There was enough left for both of us for our allotment lunch tomorrow. Now I will have to source some farro here, there are a number of Italian deli’s here, but question is do they stock farro. Something for me to check out in the coming weeks. Thank you Michele, you know why.
Farro, feta and roasted butternut squash
Serves 4
Ingredients
250g farro, rinsed and drained
250g butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 shallots cut into quarter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or more olive oil)
sea salt to taste
100g feta cheese (optional - can be ommited for a vegan diet)
Preheat oven gas mark 6

Combine the farro and stock in a large pan over medium heat. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the farro is tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat, drain any excess stock and set aside.

While the farro is cooking toss the squash, onion, and thyme with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt on a baking sheet. Arrange in a single layer and place in the oven for about 20 minutes. Toss the squash and shallots every 10 minutes to get browning on all sides. Remove from the oven, let cool.

In a large bowl gently toss the everything (except the feta cheese) with the walnut oil (or olive oil). Crumble over the feta cheese if using and serve.

Farmshop

This morning we had decided to go to the farmers market, but got our day mixed up as there were no stalls there. So on impulsive we decided to drive out to Helensburgh, and stop on route at Ardardan farm shop in Cardross. It was a long slow drive, as it appeared many people had decided to hit the road because of the unusual hot weather and head to the seaside in Largs.
When we arrived at the farm shop. George the cheese man was holding a cheese tasting stall and promoting a number of local Scottish cheeses. We tasted quite a few and were persuaded on purchasing two: Lanark Blue and Strathdon Blue. I also purchased jam: pomegranate and lime, a flavour you don't come by that often. We also stopped at the coffee shop and had a bite to eat. I decided to have a stilton cheese panini with mango and ginger chutney; and D the demi veg by association had a Tuna melt.
This blackboard sign is in the farm shop made me smile to myself, I thought you might be interested in reading it too.
What I like about Ardardan farm shop is it is a pleasant place to stop by, it has a cafe, a farm shop and nursery garden centre. But also a small farm where you can view some of their animals. The goats, the sheep, the chicken coop and the Highland cattle.
 Then we drove back to spend an hour or so to water the thirsty plants at the plot. No work there today, its too hot.

Friday, 29 May 2009

best ever rhubarb and lemon tart

It has been the hottest day on record this year about 21 Celsius, so the plants at the allotment definitely needed watering inside and outside of the greenhouse. As I left the plot, I also picked about 6 stems of rhubarb. The question when I got home was what to do with it. I've made rhubarb crumble, rhubarb sorbet that has been a star attraction and even rhubarb cheesecake, but now what.
I decided on making this rhubarb and lemon tart. I declare this to be the most delicious rhubarb dessert I have ever had. If you make one rhubarb dessert this year, let this be the one. It is so light to eat as well, the creamy zing of the lemon filling and the soft tang of the rhubarb pairs so well.

This is also my first ever entry to Grow your own which was started by Andrea's Recipes. I think it is a great food blogger event as it also supports the principle behind my blog that celebrates the foods we grow or raise ourselves and the dishes we make using our homegrown products. This month Grow your own No 181 is being hostd by the Daily Tiffin.
Rhubarb and lemon tart
Serves 6
Make a sweet shortcrust pastry to fit a 10 inch round tart tin
Ingredients
500g rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces
100g sugar
100ml water

In a pot, stir the sugar and water together over medium heat till the sugar dissolves, then bring to a light boil. Add the chopped rhubarb and simmer for a few minutes, until the rhubarb starts to cook down, but not mushy.

Drain the liquid and reserve the rhubarb. I don’t like wastage all that flavour in the rhubarb. You could freeze it in ice cube tubs and then top of cordials or white wine for an additional flavour.

Lemon cream filling
2 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
75ml double cream
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon

Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl with an electric beater for a few minutes until the volume has tripled. Mix in the double cream and lemon zest.

Spread the cooled rhubarb on the base of the tart, cover with lemon cream filling and bake at gas mark 5, middle shelf for 30 – 35 minutes, until the cream filling is just set and lightly browned.

Leave to cool for about an hour before serving

This is based on a recipe from Christopher Lloyds wonderful book Gardener Cook. I have modified it mainly in relation to the quantity of the ingredients.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Roasted buttenut squash with spiced chickpeas

Okay, so butternut squash is not in season, but the weather we have been getting here is also not spring as we know it. It is oh so wintry and raining pretty much non stop, so for such a day, you want something warming to lift you up. And the colour of this dish can only make you smile.
Roasted butternut squash with spiced chickpeas
Serve with cous cous or broccoli doused with lemon juice.
Serves 4
Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into even sized chunks
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 spring onions, sliced into long diagonal pieces
2 fresh red chillies, sliced
200g cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
200g vegetable stock
salt to taste
25g coriander, chopped
Method
Toss the butternut squash pieces into a pan with two tablespoons of olive oil and roast on gas mark 6 until tender and starting to caramelise.

Put spring onions, chilli's, cumin in a pan with chickpeas. Add the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and 200ml vegetable stock and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for a couple of minutes, then pour the contents of the pan over the butternut squash, scatter over the chopped coriander.

Return the dish to the oven for 10 minutes.
This recipe was adapted from Denis Cotters Paradiso Seasons

‘La fěte du pain’.

Whilst we were in Paris, admiring and posing in front of the magnificent architecture of the Notre Dame, we stumbled upon a ‘La fěte du pain’.
Here young Parisian apprentices, some wearing their gold and silver medals around their necks with pride, demonstrated their skills in bread making, from kneading to lovingly rolling the bread dough into thin sticks or coils to create an elegant design before baking. Look at some of these.
I really loved the variety of bread on offer in Paris, the subtle differences in flavour, the texture and presentation. I understand when some people say they would be ‘more than happy to live of bread and cheese’, if bread and cheese was this good here. I would be a content person. But there are barely any decent independent bakers here, those that are you have to make a special journey into the city and how often is that likely to happen, when you have other things going on in your life.
Although I am competent in the art of ‘basic’ bread making, it is something I easily lose patience with. I have to be in the right frame of mind to make bread from scratch, the kneading and all that waiting around for the dough to rise. Because of my impatience to make bread at home and my dislike for supermarket bread, I made a compromise, I got a breadmaker.
I know, I know I am a little cheat, but it works for me and I am more than happy with it. I would happily advocate the purchase of a good breadmaker to those like me who do not always have the time to make their own bread from scratch.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Respect the Elderflowers

I lived in Harlech, north Wales for about a year. It is one of the most beautiful places in Wales. I highly recommend it to anyone who plans to visit Wales to go there. One of my friends, Sue took me out foraging for elderflowers, so that she could make me some elderflower cordial as a parting gift. I was given two bottles. It was quite simple to make: just sugar, lemon, elderflower heads, water and patience for the flavours to meld for a few weeks, then strain and bottle up into sterilized bottles.

I am now seeing a lot of elderflower trees, every single tree seems to be out of my reach. I so want to make elderflower fritters and some of this cordial, maybe my 6 foot + husband will be able to reach some of these, let us see what happens over the next few days.

Another quick word on elderflowers, a few weeks ago I was watching a cookery show where they were reviewing some new gourmet foods, one of which was elderflower fudge, now that sounds truly delicious, but I think I have had my fair share of sweets recently.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Inspire us – Asparagus

After work I stopped at the allotment to feed the plants in the greenhouse, especially the tomatoes, they will need feeding on a daily basis now. After feeding the plants, I paused to check out the asparagus bed to see it there was any sign of asparagus tips emerging from the bed, of course not - silly me, the asparagus is only in its second year, ah the high expectations we have.

D is envious of fellow plot holders down South growing asparagus. Unlike his patch in the West of Scotland; their patch of land is rewarding them with stalk after stalk. He aspires to have an asparagus bed like theirs one day. Looking at fellow bloggers images of their glorious asparagus also made me a bit envious, and I am not one who relishes when the asparagus season is upon us, but I wouldn’t mind growing my own. I was especially stunned by the size of Celia’s asparagus showcased recently by Eat Like a Girl. Oh well, for now we will simply enjoy what is being grown by British farmers.

Talking about asparagus. This is an asparagus steamer. I bought this for D for one of his birthdays a long while ago.
Look the asparagus falls through the sides and it is not even steamed yet. It has one purpose to hold the asparagus and it cannot even do that, it is even worse when the asparagus is steamed as it falls through the sides even more so. My advice is if you are considering getting one of these, Don’t, you can steam asparagus well without having one of these gadgets. This asparagus pot just sits high on one of our shelves, like an ornament rather than a functional kitchen product. But if you feel you must purchase one ensure that the strainer inside will hold the asparagus stalks, otherwise you may be disappointed like us.
Now onto food: Ready made puff pastry (yes life is too short to make your own, unless of course it is your vocation), asparagus stalks and a generous grating of vegetarian parmesan cheese and bake.
What more can I say. Enjoy!

from 'oui monsier' to 'wee man'

Last Tuesday was our last morning in Paris. Whilst I was still snoozing, D had nipped out to the market on our hotel doorstep and picked up some traditional bread and cheese. He also wanted to purchase a tomato, for our snacks for our long wait at the airport, but the stallholder refused to sell him one tomato, but that was all we wanted for our sandwich, he came back without any.

After checking out, we took a walk over to La Brazza and enjoyed our last café noir and then headed off the metro that had to link to the RER for the airport.
On our way, we took on more postcard photo of a Tabac and wished Paris Au Revoir until next time maybe.
On coming into Glasgow International airport terminal every person is hit by a mass of blue and white posters, firstly Welcoming you to Scotland, then the Homecoming campaign and then you see other posters promoting all things Scottish: golf, shortbread and whiskey. When I got home and settle back into my usual routine, I read this article online of Scots ‘not tolerant’ of migrants. Back to real life, eh. Yes I am in the West of Scotland were the language on the underground is of ‘wee man’ and ‘pish off’, no more ‘oui monsier’, ‘oui madame’ and excusez moi’. Home sweet home.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Cardoon, carrots and chives

I spent most of the day at the allotment today. This was my first proper day at the allotment since getting back from Paris. The weather here is not what the weather person predicted, instead it is grey clouds, but at least the rain stayed off.
D spent time in the greenhouses, planting the tomatoes into the ground and getting strings ready to tie them up when they start growing and getting heavy with juicy red, green and yellow tomatoes. So far we have planted 40 tomato plants: Ailsa craig, san manzano, tigerella, gardeners delight and golden sunrise (I think), we have about 20 left. Want some? I am sure we will find someone to take the others off our hands. Recently a number of new families have taken over some of the overgrown plots that had been abandoned for years. It's nice to see them being worked now. One of the worst allotment sites is starting to look good now.
Tomatoes are looking much healthier out of their pots.
After reading about the Drooling Vegetable progress of gooseberries, I decided to take a peek of mine which were under netting. I gently dared to press one, hard as a bullet, but they are coming along very well, not too long to wait now for gooseberry delights.
I tied up the peas that were starting to fall over and tangle with each other.
Look my carrot tub, is doing fantastically, not long before they will need thinning out. The strawberries next to it are doing just as grand with its flowers starting to open up.
Chives are starting to do what I wanted them to do, attract the bees. I actually saw two today on my plot. Buzzing amongst the herbs, but they were too quick for me to capture on camera, maybe next time.
My cardoon (not artichoke) leaves are starting to branch out. I had parted the one plant into four, only three seem to have established, I don't know what happened to the fourth, maybe it was just a bit weak.
I am not one into growing flowers at my allotment plot (other than daffodils - my welsh roots you see), after all the plan was originally to grow things that were edible, not just to look pretty, but after seeing lupins grow on Fitzys plot, I couldn't resist growing my own, which I did from seed last year. These should vary in colour, but this lupin is the first to open up on my plot.
This clematis is by the gate of my plot, the plan is to build an arch at the entrance from some wood, which in time I hope the clematis would twine around creating a more inviting gateway to my plot, but that is a project for later.

Amongst this pottering around, I also managed to transplant the leggy sunflowers, droopy rainbow Swiss chard and fennel into pots. I also managed to transplant the snowball cauliflower into the brassica bed, as well as get some weeding done. I think the next lot of plants to go out wil be the green beans. We will need to build them a frame, but that is a job for next weekend, along with Plot 11 that is also crying out again for another haircut.

Meringues and sage the size of my palm

This was our last day in Paris and the sunshine decided to show it's face to us. We left the hotel and walked over to the Brazza to get our shot of café noir, but it was closed for the whole day. As we wandered the streets, it became apparent to us that a number of places were closed for most of the day on Monday.

We planned to pay another visit to Jardin de Tuilleries, then it was off to St Denis again where we stopped and had a quick light bite to eat. This is perhaps the most authentic of french vegetarian food there is: Oeuf mayonnaise.
We also shared a generous slicing of gateau fromage blanc. It looked heavy like cheesecake, but it was really light and melted in your mouth beautifully.
Then we wandered over to St Martin and a little place called passage Brady. It is a narrow street decked with maharajah style chairs and tables by the various Indian and Pakistani restaurant owners all vying for your custom. St Martin is also a location buzzing with student activity.
We stumbled upon a school/community garden. There was so much already growing, the broad beans and potatoes already flowering, lettuces and various herbs. If you look closer you will see a person sleeping on the bench, serene.
I was astonished to come across this patch of sage, the size of my palm!
Then we took a casual stroll along Canal Martin which was surrounded by a number of trendy shops and trendy people.
These little colourful meringues were a delight for the eye. We had to get a few edible gifts for friends at home, so why not these?! But right now, which one for me - eeny meeny miny mo
Ah a pistachio meringue for me! So chewy, so rich and so creamy.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

tall artichokes and stranger wine

After Bastille market, we decided to take a stroll through Port Arsenal canal.
Typically it started raining again, this lovely female statue with her wet nose said it all for me. Give us a break rain, please!
I came across these artichokes randomly planted along the canal, they were so tall, over six foot some of them. I wonder if my cardoons will get that tall?
The colour of the wild flowers, yes it is spring, but you wouldn't think with all this rain.
To cheer us up we got ourselves some more sweet french delights: D went for his citrus tart and I want for a flan with cherries. Delicious, not overly sweet.
On our way to pere lachaise cemetery This sign made us smile, stranger wine.
Some of the cemetery monuments were humorous, like this one. A young man with a glorious moustache holding a single rose.
Others like these weeping women that pulled the heart strings.
This one was quite powerful, a memorial dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. The cemetery was quite big, we only managed to see a quarter of it until the rain chased us out and back to the hotel to dry off.
Later in the afternoon, the sun finally decided to come out and we decided to venture out again to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre. We bought our first souvenir for the house. Feeling quite pleased that the weather had changed for the best, we also decided to head off to the Eiffel Tower again as I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle.
Not far from where this picture was taken, we sat down for awhile to watch other tourists and to eat these cherries that I had purchased this morning from Bastille market, the paper bag had got so sodden, that it burst open spilling some of my juicy cherries. Like a good tourist I did pick and dispose of them.
One of my work colleagues had told me about the Eiffel Tower twinkling on the hour every evening and it was a sight worth seeing. So in order to catch this spectacle at its best, we decided to take a boat ride on River Siene. The boat ride was to last about an hour and a half. I was grateful of the idea of sitting down and just watching the sights from my seat, as I was getting tired of doing any more walking.
It was ten o'clock, we were still on the boat, but we had the best view when the Eiffel Tower twinkling on and off for a good five minutes. It was beautiful, I felt like a six year old child watching a Christmas tree lights being turned on. It was amazing. I thoroughly recommend it.
This was the best day we had in Paris.

Bastille market

Last Sunday we planned to visit Bastille Market, the famous Parisian vegetable market, and what a wonderful experience it was. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I so wish I had a place like this nearby to where I live.
The mosaic work at Bastille metro underground.
For brunch we had a Lebanese moite moite which I think means 'half and half'. Half of the flat round doughy bread had tomato pasted on it, the other half, olive oil, sesame seeds and thyme then it was topped with some cream cheese and rolled up. Delicious. For me, the street food of Paris has been the best food.
Vegetables stacked mile high! okay I exaggerate, but it all looks good.
Will I grow tomatoes that size? very unlikely.
Artichokes: big and small.
Curious me - I think this is smoked (mozzarella) cheese, but I was not fluent enough in french to ask the stall holder. What do you think it is?
Wish there were more markets like this here. I'd be happy to go there whether rain or shine.