Monday, January 18

Snowed under

We don't have snow very often. Looking through my database of photographs, the last lot of snow that we had was February and March 2018.

Last Thursday, it snowed for most of the day and the low temperatures meant that the snow hung around until the weekend. As a country, England is generally unprepared for snow and we don't cope very well when we get a significant amount of the white stuff. Traffic struggles on the roads, especially where there is anything like an incline. A lorry tipped over on our closest main road which caused the road to be closed for a while. Footpaths were treacherous and people were advised not to venture out which during a lockdown they shouldn't be doing anyway. Appointments including those for Covid vaccinations were cancelled.
The snow froze and to compound matters we were treated to freezing fog. We were thankful that, other than to stock up bird feeders and thaw bird baths, we didn't have to venture outdoors.

The birds arrived in force taking advantage of anything on offer, including access to the water.

I always shudder to see birds bathing when the weather is so cold but it's at these times that it's important to keep feathers in good condition so bathing is essential.
We saw more blackbirds than we had seen for some time and it was impossible to count the number of goldfinches that were flitting about in trees until space was available on the feeders.

Apologies for the quality of the photos but it was difficult to focus on all the activity especially through leaded, murky glass. One bird table is very close to the window and the birds are not very careful feeders and spatter the glass. There was no way that I was going outside to either take photographs or clean the windows.
Due to the weather and the fact that we didn't need to harvest any vegetables, we didn't visit the allotment but we did have one gardening event.

We noticed that our local garden centre had seed potatoes for sale. As we are still avoiding doing any shopping, which includes visiting garden centres, we decided to order seed potatoes from their website and use their click and collect service. In the event, once the order was placed, we were offered free home delivery and the potatoes arrived the following day.

The varieties that we ordered were; Apache, Casablanca, Elfe, International Kidney, Nadine, Osprey and Charlotte. We had hoped to buy Ulster Prince, a variety that did well last year, but it was unavailable. We had to forego buying any individual seed potatoes, for our trial bed, as that would have required a personal visit.

We will need to try to get to the allotment this week as we have used up the last lot of vegetables that we harvested. We brought a large batch of leeks home the previous week and these were prepared and frozen. The leeks have a lot of waste as the shafts have brownish streaks meaning that quite a few outer leaves need removing. Preparing the leeks in advance means we know what we have to work with.

The first dish that I used leeks in last week was a Turkey, lemon and leek pie which seems to have disappeared off the internet but the pie is basically turkey, lemon zest and leeks in a bechamel sauce with a short pastry top. This was served with some red cabbage that I braised in my slow cooker and sautéed Apache potatoes.  The red cabbage needed cooking down a little before it would all fit in the cooker. The red cabbage was more or less this recipe although I used apple cider vinegar and added cinnamon and raisins.

For some reason I can't find the photos that I took.
Another of last week’s dishes was Coconut and squash dansak. Our vegetables that went into this were some Crown Prince squash, onions and some tomato sauce from the freezer. I used the ingredients as stated in the recipe but used a more usual cooking method. The squash was frozen, (who can use a whole Crown Prince squash in one meal?) and I find that once it is thawed it has already softened and doesn't need so much cooking. This was served with one of Martyn's homemade naans.
More of our Crown Prince squash, onion and leeks went into a pasta bake. I topped this with parmesan rather than cheddar cheese.

Finally, this week's choice of gadget is something many of you will have which is a food processor. My choice, however is a couple of attachments that go with it. The attachments were in a box that I had forgotten about only to be discovered after I had been spending ages hand grating carrots and shredding cabbage for my coleslaw. The two attachments are a grater blade and a slicing blade. I used to especially hate grating carrots - the two attachments have considerably cut down the time it takes to make a batch of coleslaw and makes it less of a chore!

That's all for this week, as always stay healthy and safe. As they are in a higher priority group, two friends of ours have had their first Covid jab which shows that progress is being made. Let's hope the supplies keep on coming. There are no mass vaccinations hubs in West Yorkshire yet so I hope that they get round to us soon.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, January 11

A double birthday week

Last week was another flying visit to the allotment but not before we had swathed ourselves in as many layers as possible. As in previous weeks, our aim was to gather a few vegetables.

The state of Martyn's gloves, after digging parsnips and leeks, may give you some idea of why any gardening is out of the question. I should have taken a photo of his spade which was caked in mud.

Whilst, Martyn harvested the leeks and parsnips, I cut some cabbages and picked some sprouts. You can't pick sprouts wearing gardening gloves so that was a particularly finger numbing exercise.

The state of our winter vegetables is disappointing and we have lots of waste when preparing vegetables for cooking. During autumn it looked as though our brassicas would produce a good crop and would last us through the winter months. For months now, however, they have been sitting in cold damp conditions and as a result they have spoiled.
The conditions have also suited the slug population meaning everything is holey as well as slimy and soggy.

I mentioned last week that here in Yorkshire we were under tier three restrictions but that could change quickly. Sure enough it did, and the UK is now in lockdown mode. Primary schools went back to school, after the Christmas break, for a day on Monday and on Tuesday the schools were closed again. This situation will be reassessed in the middle of February but, as things are going, I can't see the restrictions being lifted then. This lockdown doesn't seem anything like the one in March. More shops seem to be open and the roads are nothing like as quiet as they were back them. For us personally lockdown 3 hasn't changed things as we can still visit my sister under the social bubble conditions. In effect we combine to create a household of three. We haven't met anyone else since March, other than to have socially distanced chats at the allotment and even that has been curtailed during the latter months as often we are the only ones on site. One thing that I do wonder about is why so much junk mail and so many charity bags are being popped through our letterbox. Our supermarket delivery people won’t take back carrier bags at the moment but we are supposed to carry on receiving all sorts of unwanted mail.
Unlike previously, under the latest lockdown restrictions, the grounds of Nostell Priory can remain open to provide a place where people can have some outdoor exercise. We booked a visit for Friday which was also Ruby's first birthday. It was bitterly cold. In places, the lake had even frozen over.
There was plenty of unfrozen water for the birds to swim and forage. Unfortunately, they were more interested in the bread that someone was throwing to them. It's a kind thought but bread really isn't good for them.
Our bird baths in the garden have been freezing over so as well as filling the feeders we are thawing out the water for our feathered visitors. They will drink and bathe in the pond if they can't find water elsewhere but that's not the safest strategy.

Ruby didn't seem to feel the cold as she dashed around. We knew that she would end up dirty as she likes to run back and forth across the paths. However, she found a couple of spots where she couldn't resist digging. (Video here). As it was her birthday and she was already very dirty we let her have her fun, although what she didn't know was that there would be a price to pay later.
Note the knees of Martyn's jeans, Ruby likes to share.
On returning home, Ruby was carried straight upstairs and birthday or not she was given a good wash - this comes very high on her most disliked things and as usual we both ended up as wet as she was. She was soon back to her fluffy self.

I have only one new vegetable recipe to share this week as other meals didn't really qualify having not included home grown vegetables in the recipes. I did, however use a tub of frozen tomatoes, onions, some parsnip and some Crown Prince squash in a pumpkin and parsnip cassoulet.
The remaining squash was frozen.

Now for my second favourite gadget. I always found that removing the core from an apple corer after use was a real problem, so I searched for something better and found this. At first glance it looks like every other apple corer but there is a very useful difference.  After coring an apple you can open it up and remove the core easily.
Finally referring back to the title, I mentioned that it was a double birthday week so who's was the second birthday? Martyn's birthday was on Thursday, the day before Ruby's. It was the first time since we retired that we didn't celebrate by going out for a meal. Here's hoping we can manage to celebrate next year's birthday or better still my birthday in May. On a positive note, it does take Martyn nearer to receiving his vaccine. Now that a third vaccine has been approved, we need someone to come up with a way of speeding up the roll out before our National Health service buckles under the strain.

Until then stay safe and healthy and be positive, better times will come. 

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, January 4

A week for staying indoors

Tuesday saw the first of our winter snow - just too late for us to have a white Christmas. Here in England, despite many Christmas cards and Christmas films featuring snowy scenes, it's fairly rare for us to have snow at Christmas. It's far more common for snow to arrive during the middle or end of winter. 
As it was we only really had a slight covering and, other than on the fields, that didn’t hang around for very long. It was Ruby's first experience of snow but there wasn't enough for it to register on her list of interesting things.
I really feel sorry for the birds when the weather is as cold as it has been. I am really amazed that such tiny creatures manage to keep warm enough to survive.
Rather than hunkering down somewhere sheltered, this wood pigeon fluffed up it’s feathers and chose one of the high points in the garden from which to oversee the comings and goings. At least he or she didn't choose to perch on Martyn's weather vane and disrupt the readings.
Blackbirds take advantage of the suet pellets that we pop on the bird table each morning but they also forage around amongst the leaves, under the trees and shrubs, for tasty morsels. As well as unfortunate minibeasts, they also find anything that the smaller birds  drop when dining at the feeders that hang in the tree.
The feeders were very busy catering for a flock, or more accurately speaking, a charm of goldfinches. The favourite feeder food for many of our feathered visitors is sunflower hearts. Whilst the feeding perches were all taken, others waited in the tree for their turn. Squabbles broke out if an impatient individual tried to nudge its way in.

The goldfinches were joined by one or two greenfinches and various tits dashed in to grab a bite when space allowed. They were too fast to photograph as they were in and off in the blink of an eye.

I wonder whether the birds will stick around during this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. Usually the birds get a tip off, maybe a tweet is sent out, and make themselves scarce on the day that we choose to count them. 

Other than watching the birds and trying to take half decent photos of them through the diamond leading of our besmirched windows, what else have I done to occupy my time?

We have braved the cold to take Ruby for a walk - we walk and she runs. Whilst we stick to the paths she likes to run in the muddy grass. What she doesn't like is having her legs and feet washed when she gets in. I often end up as wet as she is.

We were concerned that she would be frightened by the barrage of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. This year they seemed to go on from early evening to late at night but she more or less ignored them.
I topped up my Kindle library - I know many people prefer to stick to paper books but for the price of paper books you can buy three or more times the number of ebooks. With our bookshelves already full to overflowing, we just wouldn't have the space to accommodate more. It's also so convenient to 'go shopping' from the house at any time during the day or night and have books appear almost instantly on your device. I also like to think that I am cutting down on my use of paper. 

My latest read was The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley. This is the fifth book in her Seven Sisters series. I've enjoyed every one so far.

I don't like reading books straight after one another so I intersperse my reading with daily puzzles from an app on my iPad and a Jigsaw puzzle app. I do have actual jigsaw puzzles but it's convenient to have puzzles that I can do whilst curled up on the sofa and I can also make puzzles from my own photos.

Of course, there is the usual cooking to be done. Martyn and I share the cooking so it's good to have days off when my meals are placed on the table for me.

I used the red cabbage that we cut before Christmas to make a batch of coleslaw.
I used some of the savoy cabbage, cut at the same time, along with potatoes and carrots in a vegetable hash. I used stock, rather than water, to give the dish more flavour. You could mix and match various other vegetables in a similar way.
I also made a Mediterranean vegetable lasagne. Some of our onion and tomato sauce from the freezer went into this but I'm afraid that I bought most of the other ingredients so I did wonder whether I should mention it on a blog that is about home grown produce. I topped my version with a sprinkling of parmesan.

On a cookery related theme; I really used to hate using my previous garlic press so I thought that I'd share with you one of my favourite little kitchen gadgets.

It's more accurately a garlic crusher rather than a press. I hope the pictures are self explanatory. The clove of garlic is popped into the bottom half of the crusher. The top half is pushed on and the two halves are twisted a few times in opposite directions. Hey presto, the teeth crush the clove ready for use with little effort and the crusher, unlike my old garlic press, cleans really easily with just a swish in soapy water.

I'd be interested to know whether anyone else has a favourite mini gadget. I've a couple of others that I'll share in later posts.

To finish, I can't avoid mentioning the thing that is occupying so much of our collective minds at the moment. I'm guessing quite a lot of you are now in the new tier four restrictions. As I write this, here in Yorkshire we are still in tier three but I guess that could change within minutes but let's look on the positive side. The Oxford vaccine has now been approved in the UK so we now have two weapons in our arsenal with which to fight this scourge. The fact that this vaccine doesn't require storage at impossibly low temperatures means that it will be easier to distribute and the roll out is due to start immediately. I think thanks should be given to the scientists who have been working so hard on our behalf to achieve what was thought to be an impossible task. Now we all just have to wait for our phone call. On Twitter, a doctor asked if people would attend appointments at 2:30 a.m. if the vaccine was distributed 24 hours a day? Too right I would - the sooner the better!

‘Til them stay healthy, stay safe and keep smiling!

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett