September

September is my favourite month for many, many reasons.

The end of September always makes me a little sad but but I am always looking forward very much to the next one.

It is filled with lovely things for us:-

It is the month we take our main annual holiday

The Shropshire Way

Walking – The Shropshire Way

It is the month of Burghley Horse Trials

Burghley Horse Trial

Burghley Horse Trial – Burghley

It is the month of harvest

Harvest in Northumberland

Harvest – Northumberland

It is the month of Sandringham Game Fair

Horse Boarding - Sandringham Game Fair

Horse Boarding – Sandringham Game Fair

It is a month when we do most of our walking

walking - The Lakes

Walking – The Lakes

It is the month when the best fungi appear.

Fungi - Fly Ageric

Fungi – Fly Ageric

It is the month of Food Festivals across the country. Ludlow being our favourite.

Ludlow Castle

Ludlow Castle

It is the month for Bramble picking & making Jam.

Brambles

Brambles

It is the month of Indian Summers when the heat has left the sun but the cold months are not showing themselves yet.

September Sun - Ford Village

September Sun – Ford Village

It is the month we got our hound and collected him when he was just 8 weeks old.

Max

Max

And it is the month we got married

September Wedding - Rings

September Wedding – Rings


tea total

delicious tea - cute graphics too

delicious tea – cute graphics too

I love tea!

My husband thinks I’m addicted to it.

I don’t want poncey tea, I’m a PG/yorkshire tea girl and I like it made just like builders tea (but without the 4 sugars – half will do as I’m pretending I don’t take sugar!).

I am aware that a cup contains about half the caffeine (50 caffeine points – or whatever they are measured in) as coffee (100) and that I should really be on the green tea wagon with everyone else but the honest answer is that I can’t stand green tea and it is a waste of hot water and a clean mug in my book (quite apart from the fact that I keep trying it, it still goes cold in the mug and gets thrown away!!) so there is little point.

And whilst a score of 450 on the caffeine front is still very much within the safety limits, and means I can have 9 cups per day, no problem. Most days, though, I don’t come anywhere near that

BUT

In the interests of health and also because I am not short sighted enough not to realise that there might just be a green tea/tree hugger tea out there for me, I have been trying a few things.

So…………

I have a number of different boxed tea bags and leaf tea to try and decided to give each tea a score.

Twinings Green Jasmine Tea

I started with this one as I already know that I quick like jasmine tea (as served in good Chinese restaurants). I have discovered that the leaves need to be so few in number or they really only need to see the water for a few seconds before the leaves need to come out.  Otherwise it becomes quite overpowering and has a stewed bitterness to the flavour.

too many leaves and left too long

too many leaves and left too long

Score 5/10

Whittards Hangover Tea Bags 

I don’t buy this tea for hangovers but because it is THE nicest fruit tea on the market bar none. Hard to come by as they seem to run out on a terrifyingly frequent basis so I used to buy about 4 boxes each time I got the chance & have a little supply that will see me through a fair few cups.

I like it because it is fresh, fruity and not too sweet. You can pick out the fruitiness and it feels like a nice clean wholesome flavour. It contains Hibiscus Flower and I think that May well be where the lovely taste comes

AND

The colour is lovely

fruitylicious

fruitylicious

Score 9/10

Twinings Early Grey Tea

Earl Grey has been in the news recently for it’s heart healing properties all thanks to the wonderful Bergamot used to flavour it (smells pretty nice too and I love it in skincare products!). I hated Earl Grey when I first tried it as a teenager but it has become a store cupboard favourite. I think putting Earl Grey in makes this little test a bit of a cheat but I would definitely say it ranks up there with the herbal tea teas for it’s health properties..

Score 9.5/10

M&S Citrus Tea

I always have lemon tea of some kind in my cupboards as a few people who visit seem to drink it so it was quite readily on hand to try.

It’s OK and it is probably done better by others but there is still that slightly grassy taste about it which puts me off. I didn’t have it very strong (having learned my lesson on the Jasmine Tea) and that is definitely an advantage until your palate becomes accustomed.

I might persevere with this one as it’s ok but I do very much like a simple single slice of lemon in hot water. It is also a good way to wake up your liver I believe.

Score 6/10

Sage Tea

It is lovely and much less like drinking grass cuttings than most herb teas. It has such useful and powerful herbal and medicinal properties too that it is worth having in your garden for drinking even if it doesn’t get into your christmas stuffing:- it is cooling in the heat and also reduces menopausal hot flushes to name but a few.

a few tender green leaves in boiled water releases the essential oils

a few tender green leaves in boiled water releases the essential oils

sage is so easy to grow

sage is so easy to grow

Fresh has also got to be better though so this was straight from our garden.

Score 8/10

Mint Tea

Lovely and refreshing even in the heat, mint tea is so simple and easy.  Again, fresh leaves straight from the Garden and into the pot.

Rosemary Tea

Like the mint tea, this has a freshness to it that makes it lovely to drink in the heat (Rosemary is part of the Mint family) and has great healing properties. Known to boost the immune system, it also improves blood circulation, is a great anti-inflammatory and is full of those lovely anti oxidants.

All round a great herb.

What you don’t drink or cook with is also great to use in handmade skincare.

 

Whittards Lemon & Lime Tea

Then of course there is the pretend tea……

The turkish do a wonderful apple tea, the principle of which a lot of the flavoured sugars that dissolve into an instant tea follow.

This Whittards Lemon & Lime Tea has too much sugar for my pallet but it is very refreshing, especially served ice cold.

Whittard's Lemon & Lime Tea Granules

Whittard’s Lemon & Lime Tea Granules

Score 7/10

Builders tea still scores 10/10 compared to all these others but I’m getting there and drink a greater variety than just my PG now.

builder's tea

builder’s tea

The next question is whether it tastes better made in the cup or in the pot? AND should the milk go in first or afterwards?


coffee adventures

it's frothy man

it’s frothy man

After such excitement over our gorgeous new coffee machine, we have had some disappointments.

Our lovely machine blew something inside and was no longer safe to use with water and steam spewing out everywhere.

John Lewis were brilliant about it and because they had no De Longhi stock to replace it and it was dangerous, they refunded us in full and the pretty machine was condemned to the bin, unfortunately.

pixie!

pixie!

We were back to our traditional italian stove top coffee maker for a while and still loving our coffee.

But we missed the frothy milk and the espressos that JC likes. Coffee and hot milk done the old fashioned way just wasn’t hacking it.

traditional stove top coffee maker

traditional stove top coffee maker

After all it is still a bit of a faff using the stove top and a milk pan and even a wonderful morning coffee we can get from our wonderfully seasoned old campaigner hasn’t hacked it really.

We are busy and things need to be as easy as possible really

So!!!!

Having taken full advantage of our lovely friends thorough research, we are now the proud owners of a Nespresso Pixie with aerochino!

And it is wonderful

And it is easy

And there is no mess

And it is cheaper than buying beans and ground.

 

And we have found a fantastic clever devise for storing our pods that can be fixed to the underside of the kitchen wall cupboard. Right on hand but not seen. Marvellous.

pod holder

pod holder

Or mounted on the wall like a piece of art.

wall mounted pod holder

wall mounted pod holder

Finding the flavours that are right for us but it is fun trying and we have had some very helpful tips.

shiney and brilliant

shiney and brilliant

I feel coffee love again!!!


love bug

IMG_7193

love bug biccies

I’m not much of a baker and although I used to love it as a teenager, I don’t have much time for it these days. There is always something I’d rather be doing if I was honest.

a plate of bugs

a plate of bugs

But Valentines Day is a tricky calendar event when it comes to us girls getting for our boys.

fizz and love bugs

fizz and love bugs

My plan was to make some romantic sweet biscuits for JC.  So, I thought I’d spend friday evening making these cute little love bug biscuits.

It was quite therapeutic and fun too although I am clearly short of certain tools such as icing bag and nozzles which meant the icing bug head, tail and spots are painted on with a brush.

half finished love bugs (I like these and will make them like this next time)

half finished love bugs (I like these and will make them like this next time)

Not my best artistic endeavours but they are tasty and look really cute.

shadows of the heart cut outs

shadows of the heart cut outs

Might have to rethink next year though as I’m not sure they went down quite as I had planned. LOL.


foraging for fungi

field mushroom harvest

field mushroom harvest

I have expressed my desire to learn more about identifying fungi before and I still haven’t done the course that was a present from hubby christmas 2011. I really must! If only to broaden our menu and save us from inevitable tummy ache.

freshly cut with ring in tact

freshly cut horse mushroom with ring in tact

It hasn’t, however, stopped my foraging this week. There is a field where we walk at the weekends that has a small but productive crop of enormous and delicious horse mushrooms. I haven’t seen them there before but they are certainly there now and boy are they tasty looking.

The fields are still very green and the bright white beacon of deliciousness that these wonderful wild food sources are is clear to see in the middle of the field.

bright edible domes amongst the grass

bright edible domes amongst the grass

I couldn’t help but notice them and after clearing it with the farm I collected only those that had been knocked off their stems by the ponies in the field.  Each morning, though, the ones that were tiny the day before had become monsters and so I couldn’t resist and picked some of those still growing.

the smallest of these is about 100mm across

the smallest of these is about 100mm across

Picking them properly is important (always use a sharp knife and cut off at stem, never pull them out with the whole stem) and you should never harvest an entire field.

Always leave plenty behind. There may be others who want to enjoy natures larder too but it is also important to maintain the crop to ensure they grow another year.

shades of pink and brown gills

shades of pink and brown gills

There are lots and lots left that will come to maturity over the next few weeks so we should see them again next year.

cider vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper

cider vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper

Preparing them is nearly as important.  Never wash them. Clean off any dirt or insects and then brush the outside clean. I’m a great believer that a bit of muck and interest adds to the flavour but if you prefer, the skins can be peeled to remove any possibility of unwanted flavourings (whatever form that might take!!).

I love mushrooms. I love their meatiness which makes them a great substitute for meat in a vegetarian dish. I especially love risotto, chicken and mushroom pie and I particularly love fried mushrooms on a thick slice of thoroughly toasted wholemeal or artisan bread.

What a wonderful autumn gift.

We had Chicken and mushroom pie on Saturday night but we ran out of time for any other mushroom dishes this weekend. In order to continue to enjoy the taste and waste nothing, I have gifted some, dried some and preserved some for later when the crop has finished.  Loving them fresh as I do, I have held back a few of today’s harvest to go into a mushroom based dish (whatever it ends up being) that I will conjure up later in the week.

horse mushrooms preserved in oil

horse mushrooms preserved in oil

The dried ones have a much stronger smell now they are jarred and I understand that drying enhances the flavour. I can’t wait to use them in a nice juicy dish in the middle of the winter when they are no longer available.

The others I have preserved in oil and vinegar from a recipe in the preserving book I bought some time ago. The flavours in the oil say to me that they should be eaten straight from the jar  raw but we will see as I have never used mushrooms in oil before. New things are great!!

dried mushrooms

dried mushrooms

The smell of freshly picked wild mushrooms is amazing. It is rich and earthy and reminds me very much of being a child. We always came home with field mushrooms or something edible and free when we had been raking around the open countryside for as much of the day as we could squeeze out of it.

It brings to mind people like my grandparents and my gran particularly who loved a bit of free food and a forage. I’m sure it is her tasks to us kids to bring home something tasty that fuels my interest in hedgerow eating. I realised the other day when I looked at a photo of me holding the mushrooms that I picked that I have her hands…. almost identical!

dried and preserved

dried and preserved

 


Marrow and Ginger Jam

peeled and seed the marrow ready to chop

peeled and seed the marrow ready to chop

Since we started growing our own veg and salad in 2010, we’ve had varying levels of success but one thing that we always manage to grow lots of is courgettes.

cut the marrow into manageable pieces before chopping into cubes

cut the marrow into manageable pieces before chopping into cubes

Most seasons, we have used them all up in salads, pasta and anything else we could use them in and this year was not different.

We were away for a few weeks recently, however, and thought we had pretty much harvested everything that there was left to eat or that hadn’t already passed it best & gone to seed. When we got home, there was a monster Marrow hiding under the umbrella leaves of our single but very productive courgette plant.

zested and juiced lemons set aside

zested and juiced lemons set aside

I love courgettes but I’m not a great fan of marrow (seems weird when it is the same product in effect, but there you go) so I knew exactly what I would do with it. I’d use it to make one of my favourite home made jams – Marrow and Ginger.

ginger peeled and ready to chop

ginger peeled and ready to chop

Unlike the last time I made this delicious marrow and ginger jam, when we had a glut of courgettes, this enormous 2kg holiday marrow would be the ingredient in this one.

lemon halves and pips set aside

lemon halves and pips set aside

A quick dash to the supermarket for lemons and a check that there was enough ginger left, I set about my foody task for the day.

lemons into muslin bag to go into the maslin pan

lemons into muslin bag to go into the maslin pan

It’s a really easy recipe to follow and the results are so tasty.

It is a jam (with an equal amount of sugar to marrow unless you reduce it slightly as I prefer) and has a real sweetness to it but it also has a certain sharpness from the lemons & a lovely heat from the ginger that makes it equally delicious with cold meats and cheeses.

chopped ginger and lemon zest ready to go into marrow

chopped ginger and lemon zest ready to go into marrow

I absolutely love it on a slice of chunky bread and butter.

lemons in muslin bag in boiling jam

lemons in muslin bag in boiling jam

Here is the recipe for any of you that want to have a go…….

Ingredients

5 unwaxed lemons

2kg of marrow (pealed, deseeded and cut into small cubes)

2kg of jam sugar (with added pectin)

1 large knob, about 150g, of fresh ginger (peeled and shredded/very finely chopped)

Take zest off all lemons and set aside.  juice lemons and set juice aside.

Put left over lemon shells (including the pips) into a muslin bag for later.

Put marrows into your maslin pan with a splash of the lemon juice.

Cook on a medium heat until the courgettes become clear and soft (I don’t like the lumps so I let it go mushy or mash it).

Stir in sugar, rest of juice, zest, ginger and the muslin bag of bits.

Boil to setting point and then decant into sterilized jars

Yummy!!!


coffee madam?

coffee in my 'work' mug

coffee in my favourite ‘work’ mug

I love coffee.

I don’t drink a lot of it. Maybe only a cup or two a day but when I do, I really enjoy it.

For years I used to have a percolator, then I moved onto a cafetiere and after a particularly lovely stay with friends in Rome, I used a traditional stove top coffee pot for a while.

my barista recommended keep cup for travelling with coffee

my barista recommended keep cup for travelling with coffee

BUT

None of them was completely satisfactory for drinking coffee at home.

Percolators seem to burn the coffee very quickly, cafetieres stew it and render it heart attack strength coffee if you don’t drain them quickly and I never manage to watch the stove top pot carefully enough to stop it boiling!!

We have friends, Kate and John, who rave about Nespresso and after one particular sampling the delights from their machine, JC decided that we should get one for the kitchen.

Since our kitchen is pretty small and we don’t have any workspace to speak of, he thought we should build an extension to increase the size of our kitchen.

Seems a bit extreme for the simple pleasure of a cup of coffee but there you go!!

When I get something into my mind, it generally stays there until it is resolved in some way and I didn’t fancy waiting for the age it would take to get around to building an extension before I could enjoy a good coffee at home

a coffee machine

a coffee machine

Anyway, having been completely convinced that Nespresso was the way to go, we stayed with friends in the Peak District in the summer and the cottage had a coffee machine that seemed to make lovely coffee every time.  After a weekend of faffing about and drinking lots of cups of frothy coffee (when we weren’t necking sauvignon blanc by the gallon), I was pretty convinced that the faffing was worth it.

There is absolutely no denying that Kate is right and the Nespresso pod system is incredibly easy with no mess and no faffing whatsoever but I found  I didn’t actually mind the faffing. It’s not like I want to drink coffee throughout the day and then not sleep at night. I just want an odd cup that is really, really nice.

The ritual of grinding the beans, filling up the filter, attaching it to the machine, frothing my milk and waiting for the pruck, pruck, pruck noise as 2 little nozzles deliver the dark creamy coffee into my little cup is rather rewarding.

in place and ready to use

in place and ready to use

I have cleared the decks, found a corner in a cup’d for the toaster and the magimix and placed my order with John Lewis for a next day delivery of a lovely shiny new De Longhi espresso machine

ikea dinera coffee cups that match the sofa!

ikea dinera coffee cups that match the sofa!

We are experimenting with coffee blends, we are experimenting with frothing and we have bought new coffee cups too. It has been sooooo much fun.

We still don’t get it right a lot of the time just yet (JC is better at it than I am!!) and my barista art skills leave a lot to be desired but it’s fabulous.

can ya till wot it iz yit?

can ya till wot it iz yit?

We will still build the extension of course but there’s no pressure to get on with it to house a coffee machine now!


a weekend in the Peak District

the view

the view

This weekend of blistering temperatures and the threat of summer actually arriving, has reminded me of a weekend we were lucky enough to disappear on recently.

our acommodation for the weekend

our acommodation for the weekend

It was a gloriously sunny and fun weekend in the peak district to catch up with friends that we haven’t seen in far too long.

Max watching the coffee and cards session

Max watching the coffee and cards session

We booked a cottage that catered for all our needs, that was in a rural location but also close to the amenities of a little market town called Wirkworth.

We did brilliantly well with our choice and the cottage was amazing.  Recently converted from a barn just next to a very pretty public footpath, it afforded us quite a lot of privacy but the occasional distraction from passers by; especially since Max decided to greet each and every one with his big bark!!

Hamlet making the most of it

Hamlet making the most of it

It was just what we all needed. We went with absolutely no expectations and found it completely charming and far better that we could have hoped.

village pond

village pond

We had good weather, gorgeous surroundings, great company and enough beer to kill a man. What else do you need?

Everyone mucked in, there was lots of booze drunk, rubbish spoken and food eaten and it couldn’t have been better.

Matlock Baths - Biker's Paradise

Matlock Baths – Biker’s Paradise

Mostly we just chilled out at the gorgeous, gorgeous and perfectly appointed cottage. We played cards around the garden table or set up tennis (for the more energetic amongst us), we read, we chatted (a lot!!) and thoroughly relaxed.

When we did venture out (we were very tempted to stay put but really felt that we had to see more than the wonderful view from the barn garden), we were just as happy with what we found and some of it came as a complete surprise.

rows and rows of speed machines

rows and rows of speed machines

We had briefly passed through Matlock Baths on the Friday night as we arrived, so we decided to go and wander through this sleepy little ribbon town on Sunday morning. We would grab a coffee, maybe an ice cream and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverbank walk and it’s pretty shops. It should be pretty quiet leading up to lunchtime.

 

think bike - bit difficult to avoid it really

think bike – bit difficult to avoid it really

I think we were the only people in the whole county who DIDN’T know that every Sunday, Matlock Baths is overrun with bikes and scooters of all shapes and sizes as well as the diverse collection of people that ride them.

 

Every single parking space along the length of the village has 2 wheels parked in it and even the station car park was struggling to accommodate the 4 wheels that had chosen to visit at the same time.

 

hamlet enjoying a cooling roll in the grass

hamlet enjoying a cooling roll on the grass

JC got some cracking shots of some of the bikes (clearly someone’s pride and joy) and the irony of the huge, seemingly out of place, ‘think bike’ sign wasn’t missed on us – you really couldn’t help thinking about bikes since it was practically all there was as far as the eye could see.

 

some of the lovely little stairways in town

some of the lovely little stairways in town

Once we thought about it, it made sense that this funny little place couldn’t sustain about 8 fish and chip shops a greater number of cafes and 2 bike wear shops without something spectacular like the sunday pilgrimage to contribute to the coffers.

 

rambling pond side properties

rambling pond side properties

Everyone was clearly happy and there was a nice vibe.

Not remotely what we had expected but quite wonderful all the same.

 

village waterwheel

village waterwheel

We eaked out as much of the weekend as we could and didn’t leave until the latest possible (our booking was until monday am but we all had to get back for work!! boohoo) with another walk to check out the local station of Wirkworth and the sweet town centre itself.

 

dry stone walls

dry stone walls

These small towns are clearly affected by the out of town supermarkets and the change in our shopping habits but it is hanging on in there. Like all small market towns, it has it’s problems but it is surviving. It has retained its charm and there are a handful of brilliant little retailers as well as decent pubs and I hope it lasts.

 

lovely hilly meadows

lovely hilly meadows

We are going to make this little weekend an annual event now because we were so taken by the place and the surroundings. We’ll be booking it well in advance so we aren’t disappointed.

I’m looking forward to it already!!


Jamie Oliver’s Turkey and Sweet Leek Pie

IMG_1861

We love, love, love Jamie Oliver’s Turkey and Leek Pie recipe and most often make it with Chicken instead.

It is easy, quick and incredibly tasty.

If you like a good hearty pie, then this is for you and since this june’s weather is a little unseasonal, it’s not out of place for supper with these low evening temperatures.

a hearty portion of pie

a hearty portion of pie

Don’t cheat with the ingredients as it makes all the difference.

We use our own stock because of the flavour and what it does for the gravy but a good quality stock would suffice.

IMG_1856

Where we do cheat is we use frozen ready made flaky pastry. I think that is allowed in order to make it as easy as possible. And quite honestly, I am RUBBISH at making pastry.  You don’t have to do any trimming around the pie dish either because the pastry gets tucked in around the edges to tidy it up and nothing is wasted.

IMG_1852

I love it made in these old enamel tins just like my gran used to make her pies (that or an old plate that became unrecognisable from the crazing that the heat of the oven did to it).

spuds

spuds

The best time of the week to do this recipe is a Monday or Tuesday night when you have the left overs from a chicken sunday roast. You have the chicken bones for the stock and you have the left over chicken meat to add to the leeks. To be honest, we’ve bought a chicken specifically to make this pie and used the breast for something else.

plating up

plating up

Combine that with some tasty roasties and a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc and you have all you need.

 


love thy neighbourhood

breads

My relationship with london changes daily. I’ve been here most of my life from 18 years old.This has only been punctuated by a short move to the Oxfordshire countryside, an art foundation course in Banbury and then art college in Newcastle but apart from that, London is my adopted home.

During the week when I am suffering at the hands of rude and smelly tube users, I loath London and consider it at best a necessary evil. It is at these moments I really wish I could get away.

Even then, I manage to appreciate it’s multi cultural side, the fact that it has EVERYTHING and it gets it first. This is further eased by the fact that I think where we live has a lot going for it and we have the greatest friends most of whom live nearby.

cheese straw

When I’m not fighting with commuters and take the time to see what is around me, I feel much better about the place and I have time to realise that it is just outright splendid.

Take today.

freerange eggs, salami & vine tomatoes

Today has been one of those special days in London for me. I met 2 of my close friends out walking the dog and stretched my usual hour to two hours so I could spend a bit more unexpected time with them. I bumped into one of them again as she was taking her little son to meet friends while JC & I were striding out to enjoy what was on offer at a local Sunday Market. I saw the other friend again while we were at the market but this time with her husband..

breads etcetera

We hadn’t known about the market until we saw a small notice for it on a nearby ‘for sale’ sign and having asked what people thought of it decided we had to give it a try.

It is set in the playground of a local junior school and although the number of stalls there today were diminished due to half term and possibly the sudden turn in the temperature, it was excellent.

carrot cake

We got a fabulous coffee and mini cinnamon swirl to kick start us (we were at a boozy birthday celebration last night and although we weren’t feeling dreadful, coffee and cake always helps). We bought meat direct from a farm on Romney Marshes, italian sausage from a local italian, some amazing flavoured breads, vine tomatoes, eggs, and cake. There was so much more on offer such as cheeses, baked goods, Thai wraps, fish finger sandwiches (yes, fish finger sandwiches!!), jams, pickles, burgers, curries and much, much more.

eggs and salami

The stall holders were all lovely and incredibly chatty which is as much a part of the experience for me as the sampling and buying; the freshness in the air was blessed with sunshine and it really couldn’t have been better.

We won’t abandon our local butcher or the delights of the Green Lanes shops completely but we will be doing a good part of our main meat and veg shopping here every week now. It makes the job of food shopping so much more pleasant and fun.

 

salami, vine toms & duck eggs

It is days like today when I remember that I love london, and I love my neighbourhood!!