Monthly Archives: November 2010

Snow Dust & Slow Times

I expect it’s a sign of things to come that we woke up to a good dusting of snow down here in South Wiltshire. I’ve lived here for 24 years now and only remember about 5 winters were we’ve had good snowfalls. Just south of the Plain means the lower ground and slightly warmer temperatures protect us to a certain degree. Last winter was probably the worst I’ve seen here and the recent cold temperatures don’t bode well for the months to come.

Most things in the garden have slowed down to a stop. Only the birds are busy making the most of the replenished feeders. Just Blue and Great Tits this morning plus the ever present Robin; he loves the fat-filled half coconut on the bird table. There’s always some clearing or tidying to do but today is not one of those days, it’s a day to be inside and get one or two important jobs done, the main one being to re-commission the woodburner for another winter’s use. On a cold winter’s night there’s nothing better than a roaring log fire, maybe a glass of sloe gin and a good book or film.

A few Brussel Sprouts and Parsnips to gather for dinner and one of the Summer Squash will come out of store for roasting. Rach has made bread again which will go nicely with the courgette soup thawing out for a reminder of summer.

Here’s a few photos of the garden this morning. Things are looking a bit forlorn now and there’s not much colour around.

And I’d like to leave you with a few well written words over at one of my favourite websites, this is beautiful writing which sums up my mood at this time of year very nicely.

Have a great weekend!

National Curry Week

This week is National Curry Week and the 6th Annual British Curry Awards were presented in London last weekend.

From a local perspective Hox Brasserie from Salisbury came 2nd in the South West category, one of 56 shortlisted restaurants from a total of 3,500 restaurants nominated by the public. And I can personally testify to how good the restaurant is.

The winners in the nine regional categories were:
Ashoka Johnstone, Johnstone (Best in Scotland)
The Spice Cube, Newcastle (Best in the North East)
The Millennium Saagar, Douglas, Isle of Man (Best in the North West)
Lasan, Birmingham (Best in the Midlands)
Rajpoot, Bath (Best in the South West)
Aziz, Oxford (Best in the South East)
Bengal Dynasty, Shotton, Flintshire (Best in Wales)
Brilliant, Southall (Best in London Suburbs)
Bombay Brasserie, London SW7 (Best in London Central & City)

In addition Mem Saab, Leicester was named Best Newcomer and Brighton’s Chilli Pickle the Most Innovative restaurant.

The following is a complete list of all of the finalists in the various categories
Most Innovative Restaurant
Chai Street, Cardiff
Chez Mumtaj, St Albans
Chilli Pickle, Brighton
Vine & Spice, Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire

Best in Scotland
Ashoka Johnstone, Johnstone
Britannia Spice, Edinburgh
Lancers Brasserie, Edinburgh
Mushtaqs, Hamilton
Mya, Edinburgh

Best in the North East
Aagrah, Leeds
The Last Days of the Raj, Gateshead
The Spice Cube, Newcastle
The Valley, Northumberland
Vujon, Newcastle

Best in the North West
Indian Ocean, Ashton-under-Lyne
The Millennium Saagar, Douglas, Idle of Man
The Viceroy, Carlisle
Usha, Burnley

Best in the Midlands
Almas Brasserie, Dore, Sheffield
Asha’s, Birmingham
Itihaas, Birmingham
Lasan, Birmingham
Rilys, Redditch

Best in the South East
Aziz, Oxford
Haweli, Twyford
Jaipur, Milton Keynes
Malik’s, Cookham
The Old Bengal, Beaconsfield

Best in the South West
Hox Brasserie, Salisbury
Myristica, Bristol
Rajpoor, Bath
Viceroy 1, Yeovil

Best in Wales
Anarkali, Swansea
Bengal Dynasty, Shotton, Flintshire
Bokhara Brasserie, Bridgend
Sheesh Mahal, Llanelli

Best in London Suburbs
Blue Junction, Morden
Brilliant, Southall
Chak 89, Mitcham
Green Spice, Dartford
Royal Tandoori, South Croydon
Shampan 2, Bromley

Best in London Central & City
Bombay Brasserie, SW7
Bombay Bicycle, SW10
Gaylord, W1
La Porte des Indes, W1
Mehek, EC2
Tamarind, W1

Best Newcomer
Aagrah, Bradford
Cinnamon Kitchen & Anise, London EC2
Jai Ho, South Shields
Lucky’s Indian Tapas Bar, Newbury
Massala, Cobham, Surrey
Maya, Surbiton
Mem Saab, Leicester
Zook Tea Bar & Grill, Manchester

If you live anywhere near any of these restaurants I suggest you get down there this weekend. I’ll be at Anokaa in Salisbury on Friday, any excuse for a curry!

Sunday Morning

Sunday mornings remind me of the Lou Reed song and they should always be lazy Sunday mornings in my opinion, well as lazy as they can be with two young children!

Saying that today Rach was busy making bread this morning which was delicious. There’s been a resurgence in home backing over the last few years, we’ve seen bread making on TV series like Hugh FW for example. As I mentioned in a recent post I am now on the Horticultural Society Committee and one of our tasks this week is to decide the 5 categories in the cookery section for next year’s Summer Show. So let me know if you have any ideas!

And isn’t this time of year great for garden birds? I’ve replenished the bird table just outside the kitchen window and spent 10 minutes or so scanning the garden for activity. I couldn’t believe how many birds there were. Blue and Great Tits lay siege to the Mahonia Japonica, they were practically buzzing in and out of it whilst a pair Blackbirds and a Robin picked over the leaf litter. There were lots of visitors to the table as well including a greenfinch and chaffinch and of course the ever-present Woodpigeons were stripping the honeysuckle which is all over the back fence. Last of all a Jackdaw popped on to the veg patch briefly to have a peck at something. It was great to see so many birds and has spurred me on to get more feeders up and a water bath sorted out.

I recently took part in a poll on the nation’s favourite river. Well the results are in and the Wye has been voted the favourite. No wonder it certainly is a picturesque river although I do feel sorry for some of the others such as Thames and Mersey that have to do battle with a more urban landscape and have been cleaned up enormously in the last two decades.

Hope you’re all having a lovely Sunday!

Cost vs Benefit

From time to time I deal with cost benefit analysis at work and I’ve been reading recent discussions on the cost of veg growing with interest. It’s one fundamental question that all of us growing our own, or thinking of doing so, have to face up to: Is growing your own cheaper than buying your fruit and veg in the supermarket?

On the face of it, in pure financial terms, of course it isn’t. The statistician in me would like to work it all out (I wish I’d kept the receipts!). But when you start to think about allotment rents, or allocating a value to the part of your garden you’ve turned over to veg growing, costs of a greenhouse, or shed, tools, seeds, manure / compost etc it soon adds up. Of course in accountancy terms you’d capitalise a lot of this expenditure over future years as one off purchases will eventually pay for themselves but in the short to medium-term, say 5-10 years, there’s no way your veg costs can compete against the rock-bottom supermarket prices.

Fortunately we are not dealing with a black and white world. And when looking at grow your own versus the supermarket we’re comparing apples and pears, there are so many intangible benefits to growing your own which, if we could put a value on them, would far outweigh the supermarket.

So why do I do it?
1) It’s a genuine hobby and interest of mine. I love the satisfaction of sowing a seed and nurturing it to fruition. I suppose it’s a basic human instinct that many people have lost over generations. I also meet and speak to like-minded people, it’s a huge pastime in this country and as we are now in an age of austerity re-discovering a back to basics approach is seriously on-trend at the moment. It’s probably the one time that I can say I’m doing something fashionable in my life!
2) I firmly believe that it’s a hobby that reduces stress and blood pressure. In the summer after a hard day at work I can go out in the garden and all the concerns and worries of the day ebb away. Put a £ value on that!
3) I can involve my family in the process. My children will have that awareness of how things grow and where they come from. Vegetables aren’t meant to be uniform and wrapped in plastic. In time they can help out and this will be a lifeskill they can take with them into adulthood.
4) I can control what my family eats. I know exactly what has gone into producing this food and they eat it at its freshest. There’s no better feeling than watching my children tucking into fresh veg that I picked minutes before. Those of us who choose this path try to be as organic as possible so we are benefitting wildlife at the same time.
5) I can grow different varieties that I can’t can’t get in the supermarket. Also I can concentrate on veg that is more expensive to buy, such as sprouting broccoli, but I may not grow many onions which are cheaper to buy in the supermarket.
6) Seasons and Air Miles – 3 years ago I didn’t have much of a clue about what grew when and where it came from. Country of origin was a part of the label I never checked. Now I know that a butternut squash in May is from Argentina, Green beans in February are probably Kenyan and raspberries in December will be from the land of the Pharoahs! I still want to eat exotic things that can’t be grown in this country from time to time. But what can be grown in this country I’ll eat in season as much as possible. It’s fresher, tastes better, and helps cut down air miles. There’s the argument in some cases we’re supporting families in developing countries but shouldn’t we be supporting them to grow food for their own, and neighbouring countries?

There are also ways you can reduce costs. Take membership of a local Horticultural Society, Gardening Club or Allotment Association as an example. I pay £5 a year to be a member of the Winterslow & District Horticultural Society. For that I get 50% off my annual seed order. Stop there, I’ve already saved way over my £5. But I also get free entry to shows, where I can partake in a bit of friendly competition with other local gardeners, and access to expert talks such as the ones given by Ray Broughton, from Sparsholt College, where I have learnt things that I have never seen in books or on-line. And I can tap in to the collective encyclopedic knowledge of the membership if I need to. So £5 a year is fantastic value!

You can also save and swap seeds, recycle materials, make your own compost and leaf mould. The list of money saving ideas is endless.

So if you’re only interested in the £ price of fruit and veg stick to the supermarket. However, as you can see, there’s so much more to it than that, take this photo for example:

How can you put a price on that?

Curry of the Week #4

It’s been 3 weeks since my last curry recipe and I’ve started to get severe withdrawal symptoms. So here’s tonight’s curry, lamb curry (andhra style) from Camellia Panjabi’s book “50 Great Curries of India”. This is a great curry recipe book packed full of information.

The Andhra style of cooking is the hottest in India but the yoghurt in this recipe balances the spices nicely.

150 ml full-fat yoghurt
2 1/2 tsp garlic puree
2 1/2 tsp ginger puree
2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsps chopped coriander
1 1/2lb stewing lamb
3 tbsp oil
2 onions finely chopped
3 tomatoes finely chopped
6 green cardomoms
4 cloves
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
10-12 curry leaves

1) Mix the yogurt, garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric and coriander leaves and add to meat, leave to marinate for 2-4 hrs. I left mine in the fridge overnight.
2) Fry the onions in the oil until brown, add the cardomoms and cloves and fry for 1 minute.
3) Add the meat and marinade and cook on low until the marinade is absorbed (10 mins) then turn the heat up and fry the meat stirring for 5 minutes.
4) Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes until the liquid is absorbed then fry the meat again stirring for 5 minutes.
5) Add the caraway seeds, curry leaves and salt to taste. Stir well then add a pint of hot water. Cover and cook on a low heat until the meat is tender. Then uncover and boil off the excess liquid until you have the consistency of gravy you like.

Garnish with coriander and serve with rice. Delicious!

An update on the Firsdown Bus Fire last week which was front page news in the weekly Salisbury Journal published today. Credit to Mr Trudgill who acted so quickly and got his children and others off the bus in the nick of time. One of Rachel’s photos appeared in the Journal. There’s a few videos of the incident on You Tube now, quite shocking how quickly the bus burnt out.

Best Laid Plans……..

It’s that time of year when we’re making plans for next years veg plot. A time to try new varieties or return to old favourites. I have loads of seeds already that I can sow again next year and some I have collected from this years plants. But I still can’t resist a few new purchases. Here’s my list for 2011:

Aubergine Bonica F1 (30 seeds / £1.90) – I grew my first aubergine plant this year which made a great moussaka, so more of the same next year.
Dwarf French Bean Borlotto Firetongue (100 seeds / £1.80) – great colour, a fiery red, not grown before.
Dwarf French Bean Purple Teepee (150 seeds / £1.75) – ditto, deep purple.
Runner / French Bean cross Moonlight (35 seeds / £2.95) – white flowered self pollinating which should mean a better crop in our unreliable summers.
Beetroot Burpee’s Golden (225 seeds / £1.95) – I love beetroot and want to try a golden variety.
Brussel Sprout Bedford (450 seeds / £1.10)
Celery Loretta (350 seeds / £1.95) – grew celery for the first time this year, this is a self blanching variety so no need to dig any trenches.
Cucumber Carmen F1 (5 seeds / £3.95) – expensive but I only grow 2 plants each year. All-female variety which I’ve grown before, heavy cropper, and the girls can eat skin on which is the main reason I’ve decided to grow it again.
Parsnip Exhibition (600 seeds / £1.10) – grew well this year.
Pea Oregon Sugar Pod (260 seeds / £2.15) – mangetout, first time I’ve tried to grow any pea/mangetout.
Sweetcorn Earlybird F1 (35 seeds / £1.75) – I grew sweetcorn for the first time this year and loved the taste of freshly picked cobs.
Rocket Runway (450 seeds / £1.60)
Swede Invitation (1300 seeds / £1.50)
Tomato Golden Peardrop (20 seeds / £1.50) – I’ve not grown a yellow variety before.
Tomato Faworyt (40 seeds / £1.45) – beefsteak variety
Potatoes – Lady Christl, Kestrel, Desiree, Maris Piper and Charlotte (1kg each).

There’s £30 of seeds there and the spuds will set me back £14.95. But by ordering through my local Horticultural Society, who use Dobies, I should get 50% of the seeds and 10% off the spuds which is a fantastic deal!

But you know what they say about the best laid plans……….I just need to find the room to plant them all!!

Are you planning to grow anything new next year?

One Year On!

It’s been one year today since I started this blog. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it having never kept a diary or been much of a writer in my younger days. It’s just a gardening journal really with a few other bits and bobs thrown in. This is my 132nd post and you’ve popped across over 10,000 times. Thank-you for reading and commenting. I’ve also enjoyed reading your blogs; here’s to a great year and an even better 2011!

Over the last year I’ve grown some great (and not so great) veg and flowers, won some prizes, given one or two things away and generally enjoyed my time with family and friends.

So how did I spend my anniversary? I picked some veg of course for tomorrow’s roast dinner.

Those sprouts and parsnips are going to taste good. And while the girls had some friends around I took my dog Polo for a walk in nearby Bentley Wood.

We’re lucky to live only 10 minutes away from such a special place. At 1700 acres it’s one of the largest areas of unbroken woodland in Wiltshire, an SSSI, and home to rare butterflies such as the Purple Emporer, White Admiral and Pearl-bordered Fritillary. It was too late for the deer rut which dominates the wood in October but the small birds were on good form and I managed to spot one of my favourites, the Jay.

I think Autumn is becoming my favourite season. There’s still interest in the veg plot and garden, it’s a great time for foraging and when the leaves are coming off the trees you can see so much more wildlife in places like Bentley Wood.

There’s only one contender in my garden for the most colour over the next few weeks. I love this Japonica.

My local Horticultural Society held their AGM & Supper last night. We had a lovely meal and some great company. I was elected to the committee so if you have any good ideas for events or new show classes we could do next year let me know.

I think 2011 is going to be an even busier one!