Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What a Difference a Storm Makes

Over the weekend we had a couple of glorious winter's days. Lots of sun and not too much wind tempted me out into the garden. Not that it takes all that much to tempt me into the garden you understand. Normally just a break in showers is enough but this time the weather was truly glorious so every time I took a break from writing I wandered outside and spent a bit of time doing some garden chores. On Saturday this included spraying the cabbage family for caterpillars - I go the non toxic route of BT, a naturally occurring bacteria that kills the little beasties but doesn't harm anything else. Now all I need is something similar to deal with the snails. I can see where they've been busily chomping but where they hide during the day still eludes me.

When Sunday proved equally lovely I splashed around a bit of liquid fertilser and scattered some NPK around among other things. Since I was by no means lavish with either of the fertilisers I wasn't expecting much to happen quickly or otherwise, just for the plants to keep on growing steadily so when I'd finished and tidied up I came inside thinking more about my story than plants. Then around midnight there was an almighty crash of thunder and the heavens opened.The heavy rain and thunder only lasted about twenty minutes then everything quietened down so I went back to sleep.

On Monday, apart from a quick morning check for storm damage and to see if the roof was intact - it was, phew - I wasn't even thinking about the garden until around midday when I was standing looking at the flower bed outside the family room and talking to Pisces while idly wondering if the daffodils were ever going to come up when I noticed something. Where on Saturday there hadn't been a sign of daffodil shoots now they were everywhere and most were around 3-5 centimetres tall. I hadn't put any fertiliser on that bed because I ran out - note to self get some more fertiliser ASAP - and there they were growing almost before my eyes. As well every leaf had turned brilliant green. Hmm, I thought,  as I headed out to the veggies. There wasn't a plant there that hadn't grown. The tiny carrot plants that were barely showing the day before were now now 3-4 centimetres high, the peas that had been sitting barely moving for days were well on their way up the trellis and the chard, kale and pak choi had nearly doubled in size.

Of course, some of this is down to the fertilser but most I suspect is due to the nitrogen brought by the storm. You don't have to be a gardener to notice how the plants green up after a storm - storms generate a lot of nitrogen in the form of nitrates that plants feast on. While I don't want regular storms with severe winds and damage like those we've had several times over the past month - hence the roof check - smaller ones like the latest with a brief flurry of light and sound and a short, heavy rain shower watering the garden as well as supplying it with nitrogen are very welcome as far as I'm concerned - even if they do send Puss under the bed in a panic.

Monday, June 18, 2018

What I've Been Reading: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

For some reason I haven't been reading as much as I usually do. It's not at all unusual for me to get through five or six novels in a week normally but for a few months I haven't got to the library - or anywhere else much, truth be told. I've been struggling with health issues - just being sociable has seemed too hard for much of the time - and for some reason this affected my desire to read as well.

But a few weeks ago I was looking at various lists of prize winning books and wham I was on amazon.com and buying up ebooks. My To Be Read list is now bulging with potential goodies and here is a brief review of the first of those I have read recently.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey was the winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2014. I picked it up without knowing anything about it. I hadn't read any reviews and I'm glad I hadn't because while there is much, well earned praise there's also a lot negativity which I don't think it deserves.

Personally I loved it. It's not a comfortable or easy book to read. Maud, the protagonist, has dementia and is convinced her friend, Elizabeth, is missing and that Elizabeth's son has something to do with her disappearance. The trouble is no-one will take her seriously as she tries to find out what has happened. Her dementia has affected her memory so in her search for Elizabeth she does the same thing over and over irritating people. She is patronised by those who should know better and eventually even forgets who her daughter and granddaughter are. There are a lot of questions raised about the treatment of the elderly as we hear Maud's story.

Intertwined with her present day confusion and memory loss but with the perfect clarity of a dementia sufferer Maud remembers all the details of her sister's mysterious disappearance in 1946 when she, Maud, was a schoolgirl. The disappearance of her sister has had long lasting effects and Maud's search for answers to both quests makes for a satisfying read. The author has tackled a difficult subject - the effects of dementia on the sufferer, the family and the way it's dealt with in the community as well as the lack of sympathy with which it is often perceived - skilfully and with compassion. Dementia is a terrible disease with its insidious, incremental theft of the personality of the sufferer and in this novel it is shown in all its cruelty.

When I did read the reviews later I found the mixed responses interesting. For some the end was unsatisfying and they found Maud's confusion, well, confusing but for me it follows the logic of a dementia sufferer. There are never going to be clear cut answers for Maud who is likely to  have forgotten what she finds out in a matter of minutes and to go back to her search for answers. I suspect this book is difficult for some of those who have no experience with dementia to grasp but for those of us who have watched a loved one decline with this disease it rings painfully true. I recommend it highly.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Garden Food

I love nothing so much as going out to the veggie garden and bringing in a basket of yumminess - and I didn't really expect yumminess to be a word. Turns out it is. Well, fancy that, as my grandmother used to say. Okay back to the subject which is veggie garden harvesting - and cooking, both of which are equally important after all.

So I currently have a glut of lettuces. This is because I let some go to seed  - I do this regularly with my veggies, either to collect the seeds to store or, as I did with these lettuces, to let them self seed - and they've come up all over the place in my veggie patch.

As you can see in the photo pretty much all the left hand corner is lettuce - plus a border of calendulas, which also self sow like crazy.




They're not the only volunteers. Most of the spring onions you can see have also planted themselves - and I'm very happy for them to do that. The only trouble is they're in something of a glut, too. What to do? Well I settled on pea and lettuce soup - had to buy the peas because mine aren't ready to pick yet but you can't have everything, can you.

I was sure I had a recipe for this many years ago but couldn't find it so I decided to put together my own based on the traditional French way cooking peas and lettuce together as a vegetable and it turned out to be very tasty.

This is what I did - and bear in mind I'm the kind of cook who for the most part doesn't measure much unless I'm baking so most of the measurements are by no means precise.

Lettuce leaves (the outer leaves are fine for this) sliced - about 8 cups in total

6 or so spring onions (you could use any kind of onion really) sliced

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

about 30 grs butter

1 kg frozen peas

7-8 cups vegetable stock (I made it with a couple of cubes)

⅔ cup milk powder (I used this because I was short of fresh but you could use 2 cups of fresh milk instead and adjust the amount of other liquid accordingly.)

3-4 sprigs of mint

Black pepper

In a large pot melt the butter and sauté the onions and garlic until soft but not brown. Add the lettuce and cook until soft and wilted. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Add the peas and mint and simmer until the peas are soft. Remove from the heat and add a generous grind of black pepper and the milk powder. Blend to a purée and adjust seasoning to taste. I served it with a sizeable dollop of Greek yoghurt but you could use crème fraîche or cream I guess.

Note: This is pretty thick - because that's the way we like our soup - and made around eight large  servings but you could add more stock or milk to thin it down a bit.

Note: I didn't use salt because the stock cubes tend to be salty and I rarely cook with salt anyway.

Monday, May 28, 2018

I Do Not Like Housework

I REALLY do not like housework. There, I've said it, so now you all know. On the other hand I really hate dirt. This means that housework - at least that I deem necessary for my physical and mental health - does get done. It also means I'm like a bear with a sore head - not mention sore hands due to arthritis - while I'm doing it. And when something proves hard to clean then I get even crankier.

This means that when something happens as it did over the last few days that I cannot find a solution to, I'm a far from happy little camper.

What was this problem you are no doubt wondering - or not if you find everything about housework, even someone else's, as boring as I do. Well, I will tell you.

A few days ago I noticed an odour in the fridge and, being somewhat compulsive about such things, I took everything out, clearing out everything from the shelves including the freezer compartment, and washed the whole thing out - shelves, vegetable crispers, everything. There was not a spot I missed.  I  found a few smelly items that Pisces had not sealed up properly and moved them to sealed containers and disposed of the surprisingly few past their use by date items I found where someone - whose name is almost certainly Pisces - had pushed them to the back. This is an on-going battle between the two of us since if you push things to the back of the fridge they tend to freeze but apparently it's a step too far to remember not to do it. I then checked and wiped over every container before I put it back and for good measure I put a container of bi-carbonate of soda in on the top shelf to absorb any future odours.

This odour free state has not lasted and by today opening the fridge had reached the 'oh no' stage. So I've just gone through the whole palaver again. I'm hoping this time I've won. If not, well, I do not know what I'll do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Royal Wedding

It was quite spectacular, wasn't it. The bride looked beautiful and the groom's smile as his bride came down the aisle was full of emotion - all just as it should be. I confess that by the time of the great day I was just about royalled out. Not that I didn't wish them all happiness. Of course, I did and do wish them that - and I enjoyed watching a happy couple making their vows. What was driving me nuts was the media driven hype. The inane commentary and the pursuit of every sniff of scandal appalled me. Why we - and as consumers of this stuff we, the public, are complicit and just as guilty as the media - feel entitled to pry into private matters I do not understand. Personally I am not interested in anything that is private unless it affects the public good and is therefore in the public interest and I avoid gossip about the famous - which includes the royal family - at all costs.

Because of that I tried very hard to avoid the hype. I was not very successful. If it wasn’t programs about the various royals it was advertisements for those programs and the forthcoming wedding or hordes of reporters - and I use the term reporter loosely - descending on the UK in search of a story, any story (like those wandering around London with a couple of unconvincing royal impersonators - really) and not so much reporting as making desperate attempts to fill their programs or other media with something, anything, however irrelevant. When I mentioned this on Facebook some folk assumed I was anti-royal and that’s not the case. I really have no problem with the royal family. The British model of a constitutional monarchy seems to work very successfully and I admire the Queen greatly for the way she has carried out her obligations. Personally, though, I think it seems a pretty thankless task and all the designer clothes, jewellery and palaces would not compensate for the lack of a private life. It’s certainly not a job I’d like.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

No Smoke Today

so I've been out in the garden - of course. On our way home from the doctor's yesterday - I've just had my annual flu shot - Pisces was persuaded to make a detour to the garden centre so I could invest in a few seedlings. Actually I was in search of some marjoram - one of my absolutely favourite herbs - after mine suddenly turned up its toes and expired. I grow a lot of herbs to use in my cooking and I still have plenty of others to choose from but nothing quite does it for me like marjoram and I've been looking for some for some months. We did a circuit of the herb section and there was no sign of any - lots of different thymes, oregano and mints to name a few but only golden marjoram which tastes quite different from the old fashioned kind.

I was feeling a bit frustrated by then and so I headed to the vegetable seedlings. I'm trying to remember to plant in succession this year, something I tend not to be very good at, so I wanted some more lettuce seedlings - and I might have accidentally on purpose invested in some more onions, dwarf French beans, beetroot and pak choi which are now nicely tucked up in the veggie garden beds. And then it happened. I was wandering along the seedling display picking up this and that and there they were in the middle of the veggies - a couple of containers of marjoram seedlings.Whoopee! One of them is now waiting to be potted up and sent to join the other herb pots in the garden and I can hardly wait until they're big enough to use.