31 August 2010

The water's lovely

This amazing beach is only a ten-minute drive from our house, and yet today was the first time the whole family have been there this year. Last summer we spent several hot evenings there and I was slightly shocked to realise that we'd got to the last day of August without a visit.

To make up for our neglect, I prepared a Blytonesque picnic of cheese, onion and potato pies, hard-boiled eggs, and pasta salad:

Although no ginger beer, sad to say.

I always find it stressful getting to the beach: everyone always seems bad-tempered, for some reason, as we load up the car with stuff and fail to find the suntan lotion, or someone's goggles. But when we arrive, the sound of the waves is instantly soothing, transporting me back to my childhood trips to the water's edge.

We lived in a seaside town then, but I seem to recall that our visits to the beach were just as infrequent in those days, too. My memory suggests that we mainly went there when our inland-dwelling cousins came to stay. Perhaps it's inevitable that you take such natural pleasures for granted when you live near them.

One of my enduring memories of those four-generation extended-family days out at the beach is of my grandfather. His method of entering the cold sea was quite spectacular. No timid inching into the water, step by freezing step, for him. He would run into the English Channel at a tremendous pace, spraying water everywhere around him and making a huge noise and performance about the whole procedure. The entire beachful of people would stop to stare at him in amazement while his family laughed in delight. Except perhaps his wife. I suspect she would have been wincing in embarrassment or hiding in the beach hut.

29 August 2010

A damp start

It was the sort of dawn that shakes you out of bed and presses the camera into your hand.

I was just going to take a couple of pictures from the front step, but ended up wandering the vegetable garden in my slippers (which are now comprehensively soaked).

It looked very autumnal, but the temperature was already 18°C/64°F, so not particularly cool. Now, half an hour later, the mist has already gone and it is going to be a hot and humid day.

23 August 2010

Jeepers Creepers

I do apologise. Not quite sure what it is with this cat and 1930s jazz songs, but you've got to admit that her eyes are quite unusual. We took her to the vet on Thursday for her first set of vaccinations and he said he'd never seen a cat with eyes this brown.

There was another grey tabby-ish cat in the litter from which my daughter chose this one, but her eyes were green. It'll be interesting to see how Minnie's change as she matures.

20 August 2010

Up close

Now the sunflowers have opened, I can appreciate the complexity of the disc flowers in the centre of the flower head. They have a weird beauty which somehow reminds me of the illustrations in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's book, The Little Prince.

Nearby, a grasshopper seemed to be admiring its shadow. I didn't notice any ants, but I'm sure they were there somewhere, busily preparing for the winter.

16 August 2010


Thank goodness for digital cameras. This beast has been in the house for less than 24 hours and already there are 62 snapshots of her. These two are just to introduce her - I will try to restrain myself and not post hundreds. We've called her 'Minnie', which is short for Minerva (her eye markings made us think of Professor McGonagall's cat form in the Harry Potter books). Only problem with that is that I've had 'Minnie the Moocher' as an earworm ever since.

15 August 2010

Playing catch-up with ketchup

I made a determined effort to get back in charge of the garden produce yesterday, picking and processing 2.5 pounds of french/snap beans and 16 pounds of tomatoes.

Most of the tomatoes went straight into the food processor and were then cooked down into tomato sauce on the stovetop. Two pounds of them were used for my first attempt at tomato ketchup, using the recipe in Jamie Oliver's Jamie at home book. It doesn't make a huge quantity: about half a pint of ketchup, which takes quite a long cooking time to get to the right consistency. Tastes great, though.

13 August 2010

Bon Appétit, raccoon

Perfect isn't it? It's a bi-coloured variety called 'Bon Appétit' which I bought from Vesey's seeds in 2008. Vesey's describe it as of "excellent eating quality".

Unfortunately the raccoons agree and we've had maybe seven cobs from this year's crop. The remainder have been stripped on the plant by the pesky creatures, leaving nothing but the vaguely obscene and insulting remains:

This is in my 'three sisters' bed, which for the first time actually worked according to the plan. The beans have been cropping well and the squash plants have spread all around the corn. The idea was that the spiky stalks of the squash stems would deter raccoons. Pah.

08 August 2010

Losing interest

The mother hen is beginning to get bored of her five-week-old chicks. For the last few days she's been spending the daylight hours with the main flock of adult birds. At night though, she wants to be in the chick enclosure with her three youngsters. Instead of sleeping on the floor with them, as she used to do, she perches on the old manger in the chick enclosure and the chicks huddle up next to her.

I've been letting the chicks out of their coop and into the fenced run in the evening for ten minutes or so, after the adults have been locked up for the night. In the mornings, I let the chicks and adults run together for a while, under supervision, before shutting the chicks into their corner of the barn for the day, without the ex-broody hen, who seems to have decided that she's had enough maternity leave for now.

The twelve larger chicks, which are now coming up for seven weeks old, are wary of the adult hens and keep their distance. They've learnt from their experience in sharing the coop with the mother of the small chicks that big hens can be aggressive. The three smaller chicks are used to being protected by their mother and are less sensible, often going a bit too close to the other hens and the rooster and getting a peck in return.

It will be a few weeks before I can integrate the two sets of birds completely, but I hope that this gradual introduction will make that process more straightforward. I have been doing a bit of reading around the subject of introducing a new set of birds to an existing flock, but haven't come across anything that quite matches the particular circumstances in which these chicks have been reared. Taking it slowly and closely watching the behaviour of all the birds seems to be the best way forward, for now.

07 August 2010


Considering that I thought I'd killed the sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) back in May, they've bounced back well and are now flowering. I'm pleased to have finally got some of these, as it's a plant that is native to this continent.

In the lower vegetable garden I've got some giant sunflowers growing. They're already taller than me and I'm looking forward to seeing these flower, too. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I've never grown giant sunflowers before. I think this is because my mother didn't like them and I inherited her prejudice without questioning it. I probably would have carried on not growing them if I hadn't been given some seeds this year. At that point I decided that I had enough prejudices of my own, without having to carry around other people's, so I sowed them and will happily confess that I have quite enjoyed watching these monsters grow.

05 August 2010

Baked tortilla chips & salsa

Another couple of recipes from The Kid's Cookbook. Child #2 and I made these for lunch. The baked tortilla chips were delicious. To be even more home-made, you could of course make your own flour tortillas, but I have to confess that these were shop-bought ones. You just brush them with some melted butter, sprinkle grated parmesan, pepper, salt and paprika over, cut them up and bake at 200°C/400°F for 8 minutes, until they're golden. The recipe also called for poppy and sesame seeds, but I'd run out of both of those.

Perfect with some fresh tomato salsa - a mix of chopped tomato with a small green chilli pepper (Hungarian hot wax in this case), a few chopped onion slices and coriander leaves/cilantro (I added parsley, too), some lime juice (I didn't have any, so used lemon) and seasoning.

03 August 2010

D is for Daunting

I'm beginning to get overwhelmed with food from the garden. After being away for a week, I picked 17 pounds of produce yesterday (and that's not including the enormous marrow that was lurking under one of the courgette/zucchini plants). This afternoon's harvest wasn't as large, but was still respectable:

I've been using a different method this year to preserve the tomatoes. I saw it on a Food Network programme: Laura Calder's French Food at Home. It's a bottling/canning recipe which is extremely simple and which was originally published by the culinary writer Anne Willan (confusingly, the recipe title on the Food Network refers to Anne Willian: I spent quite a while trying to find out who she was before discovering the truth!). The recipe involves putting the tomatoes into jars, adding some onion rings and herbs and then boiling the jars for 90 minutes in a large panful of water. The preserved tomatoes should then keep well into the winter for use in soups and pasta sauces.

The chicks have been growing well in my absence. Gender-wise, I think the ones I picked up from the poultry farm are all female, this time, but I'm fairly sure that the three that hatched from our own eggs are a mixture: two pullets and one Sunday lunch. If I can steel myself to deal with him accordingly, that is...

D also stands for 500, of course, and, according to Blogger this is my 500th post. Hm, perhaps I should have blogged about something slightly more exciting than vegetables and chickens.

But then that would have been completely out of character, wouldn't it?