It’s All Gone To P(l)ot

pots

It’s been a shamefully long time since I last blogged but here I am again, having been re-enthused by the vagaries of life, much as I’d been drawn away from blogging by same.

I’m now studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship at RBGE and SRUC – a course which combines practical, hands on gardening and how-it-all-works theory.  It’s been a bit of a mad few months getting back into the rhythm of studying – evening time isn’t really your own – there’s essays or projects or idents to be taken care of and just keeping the normal things in life going seems hard enough without adding more writing on top even in the enjoyable form of blogging.  However, now that the first semester is past and Christmas / New Year is fading in the face of slowly increasing daylight, I seem to have begun to get used to everything and can contemplate activities other than eat, sleep, coursework, take care of cat, repeat ad nauseum.

Given both myself and the other half are now in Edinburgh we’re contemplating moving closer to town – travel costs are ridiculous (getting worse every year) and travelling for 2 1/2 hours a day is really eating any spare time we do have.  This means, however, that I’m not likely to have a garden this year – there’s not much point in building up all of the usual annual plants and veg when I might not be here in the summer and, if we move out, we’ll be restoring the garden to its former paved and gravelled ‘glory’ before we go.

On the upside, I do have a plot this year for my course, so I can throw my energies into it without worrying too much about my own garden being left bare.  I’ve started a blog for it over here to chronicle how that goes.

Double digging

However, not having a garden won’t mean nothing green at home and nothing for me to have here – my woes with bugs on my indoor plants have subsided (for now, at least) and I finally have flowers on my plants again.  I have broadened my collection, this time around, and now have a few other gesneriads alongside my violets – Sinningia, Streptocarpus, Columnea, Aeschynanthus and Petrocosmea. I’ve also been growing some  carnivorous plants – Drosera spathulata.  It’s apparently one of the easiest to grow from seed and I’ve been quite tickled to sit and feed them bits of crushed up mealworms to help them grow faster!

Sonata-kolchuga african violet

Also, it’s been a while, so obviously it’s time for a silly-cat-picture.   Come hell or high water, Sam must sit on my lap…

samfail

 

Read More

Late Easter Treats

It’s been a while since I posted anything about cooking – I’ve been making plenty and quite a few tasty things too but for some reason I’ve felt really underconfident about posting on the subject – I guess possibly something to do with the fact there are so many amazing food bloggers out there who’re just so high above me I can’t see their feet for the clouds.  I don’t know why I don’t feel the same way about gardening – I’m a complete newbie with it, too, but I feel more of a sense of ‘sharing foibles’ with my gardening than my cooking, where it feels as though I’m sharing my ineptitude.

I’m pushing myself, thus, to post these even if they are now ‘out of season’ just so that I get back into the mode of publishing cooking stuff – I’d love to get back into doing my Saturday/Sunday soup recipes, especially since Mishi gave me the Covent Garden Soup Book – which has a recipe for every day of the year!  It was their soups, with the monthly seasonal changes, which added to my determination to make my own – I really liked them but they are were little  expensive and I figured I could have a go at making my own unusual soups.

Whilst hot cross buns are traditionally an easter recipe there’s no reason not to have them after!   I wish I’d taken more photos of these whilst I was making them but it was really late as I wanted to have them relatively fresh in the morning without actually making them first thing in the morning ;)  I have some pics over here, halfway down, from the last time I blogged about making hot cross buns.  Recipe is based on the bbc one here.

Hot Cross Buns

Ingredients

  • 450g strong white / bread flour plus a few extra tablespoons for decoration.
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 14g instant yeast
  • 100g mixed fruit and peel
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 150ml milk
  • 50ml of  water
  • 1 egg
  • 50g butter
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar for decoration

Directions

Add all of the ingredients to a bowl – flour, caster sugar, yeast, fruit & peel, cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg – if you will be using unsalted butter you should also add 1 tsp of salt. Melt the butter and warm the milk and water.  Make a hole in the middle of the dry mix, add the milk and water.  Beat an egg then add it to the bowl, quickly mixing so that the warm water and milk don’t start to cook the egg.

Once well mixed, turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead the dough for around ten minutes by hand – I’m not sure how long it’d take in a mixer – I didn’t want to use mine at 2am.  Put the dough into a greased bowl, cover with a warm damp towel and leave in a warm room for around an hour.  The dough should have doubled in size, if it hasn’t then leave it a little longer.

Preheat the oven to 200C

Turn the dough out onto the work surface, punch it down gently and roll into a vaguely sausage shape.  Cut pieces off about 1/2 the size you want your buns to be.  Take the piece in your hands and flatten it a little by stretching, pull the edges underneath and form a bun shape.  Cut a cross or whatever simple design you’d like into the buns and leave them, again lightly covered by a damp cloth, for around 15 minutes.

Whilst they are rising, mix four tablespoons of flour with water until you have a paste which is thick but still flows.

Once risen, use your flour mixture to make crosses or markings where you made the cuts.  The buns should then go into the oven for 10-15 minutes.  They are ready when they are a deep golden brown colour and sound slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Add the granulated sugar to a small pot with 1 and 1/2 tbsps of water.  Put the sugar mix over a low heat when you put the buns into the oven and it should be about ready when they come out – if it starts to burn or boil simply turn it off.

Once the buns are out of the oven transfer them to wire racks and use a pastry brush or similar to brush them with the sugar mix whilst they’re still warm.

Extra Notes

If you want to add extra juiciness to your buns then soak the fruit beforehand in fruit juice.  I soaked mine in orange juice for around 12 hours or so and this plumped them up well – making them softer once cooked.

You can use a piping bag to pipe the flour and water mix or you can roll up a piece of greaseproof paper into a cone and use that.

If you heat the sugar mix too fast or don’t let it melt fully before you brush it on the buns it can become very granular.  This isn’t a complete disaster as they’re still rather tasty and it can add a bit of crunch.  Andy apparently actually prefers them that way, too!

I made two batches as I wanted to make sure I had enough to feed ~15 hungry drummers with some spare and I used a cookie cutter to make circles on mine rather than crosses as the symbol the processional drummers (the group Andy is drumming with at Beltane) have on their tabards is a sun.

As well as a pile of hot cross buns I also took in some dyed eggs to roll down Calton Hill:

I used the instructions here and tips for making patterns here.  They didn’t all work out that well, but the mistakes often looked better than the deliberate patterns so I’m not too fussed ;)

Also, since it’s been a while since I posted one, here’s a silly tinfoil hat cat photo:

Sam is incredibly laid back and patient with us or possibly just too lazy to move when we put things on him…

Read More

Oh Dear…

It’s been more than a week since my last post and, whilst I refuse to be apologetic about writing at my own pace I do wish I could keep to schedules I make for myself.  However, it’s been a very pleasant and busy week which has kept me away from writing  so I can’t really complain too much or berate myself too harshly.

Wedding

Last Saturday was Scott & Kirsty’s wedding.  It was a beautiful day and everything was perfect – from the picturesque Roman Camp Hotel and it’s surroundings to the touching Humanist ceremony; the wonderful meal to the swingin’ ceilidh.  It was really nice to meet Kirsty’s family and those from auntie Beth’s side whom I’d last met when I was quite young.  The photos I’m restricting to facebook, though – too many people in them whom I don’t wish to expose to the open mercies of the internet via my little spot.  Suffice to say that everyone had a great time and that Andy and I both wish the couple a great deal of happiness in their continuing adventure through life together.  Much love to you both, and thank you for letting us be a part of your big day!

Saturday Soup

So as not to back things up for next week, I’m going to throw my Saturday Soup from last week onto the blog today.  I went for a sweet potato and chilli soup recipe from my usual haunt at BBC GoodFood.

Unfortunately, in the rush of Friday and Saturday, I forgot to take a picture when I first made it and hence had to make do with hastily microwave heated versions.  Unfortunately this is not quite as striking  as I’d have liked ;)  So be it, however, as I’m determined to keep up with and record my souply trials – even those which go slightly awry.

The cheese here is not the Gruyère suggested by the recipe, but Emmental. I was surprised that it actually went rather nicely with the flavour of the sweet potato – I’d never considered them bedfellows and especially would not have thought to put them together in soup – any cheese, that is, not just Emmental.  The soup was tasty and the little kick of chilli with sweet potato always brings out the flavour of it wonderfully but it suffered a little from being overly thick – almost like a watery ‘mash’ than a dense soup. It certainly gave my little plastic hand-blender a run for it’s money trying to whiz it into a smooth(er) soup.

I don’t know how often I’d make this but, given my propensity for having ‘spare’ sweet potatoes it might happen more often than I’d like.  Perhaps I need to try to find another sweet potato recipe!

Also, because it’s been a while since I assailed the blog with kitty pictures here’s one of Sam being uncharacteristicly playful :)

Read More

Goodbye, Wee Man

We had some good luck concerning the kitten: we took him to the vets and, lo and behold, he was microchipped!  Totally wasn’t expecting that, but glad nonetheless.  The vet phoned us say they’d gotten a number and address and would phone them and get back to us.  Super. Except… that was two and a half weeks ago.

Just as we were beginning to give up getting a hold of his owners as a lost cause we got a phone call from the vets!  They phoned yesterday morning and by 1 o’clock in the afternoon he was gone.  It was all so sudden it seems surreal – as if he wasn’t ever here.

Apparently, our lack of luck with getting a hold of the owner was due to timing problems (night shift worker) and the owner avoiding phone-calls from someone else thus missing ours, too.  The minute it went to a letter, they called the vet right away – surprised that the kitten they’d been missing for a whole month and a half had suddenly turned up!  Apparently they and their family had been out looking for the wee scamp for weeks, worried because they lived near a railway and land where foxes are known to prowl.  Given he’s such a teeny thing (six months old, would you believe!), it would have been easy for a driver not to see him or a bigger critter to get a hold of him.

Having given up on finding him themselves they realised they hadn’t sent away his microchip form.  D’oh.  Still not sure how the microchip company had him on the database – I can only assume they knew which vet had said microchip and traced the owner that way?  If anyone knows how the system works I’d welcome a possible explanation =)

The other surprise came when we found out he’d come from a good few miles away – in Larbert.  We’d not even thought to phone the vets further afield than Camelon assuming that such a teeny tiny cat wouldn’t have walked very far from home.  When he came to us, he looked a little underfed but not starving.  Given that they’d been missing him for six weeks, we’d only had him for three and he seemed to have not gotten into too bad a condition for his size we all wondered if he’d perhaps been taken from Larbert and brought to Camelon by some (possibly) well-meaning stranger who’d found him – only to run off again.

I had wanted to know what his real name was and found out inadvertently when I mentioned that, on finding him, we’d assumed he was a she.  Apparently this wasn’t the first time as originally he’d been called… Millie.  Hehe.  When the truth became apparent, Millie became Mills – a name which has a slight mischevious tilt, to my mind, and suits the wee man well – though I’ll probably always remember him as Cai =)

The place feels rather quiet without him and whilst I won’t miss him trying to eat everything (including my plants) I will miss the wee scamp being a cute addition to the family and generally adding some random to the house.

Sam, on the other hand, with probably be wholly relieved to see the back of the kitten.  Though I do think he was growing on him.  A wee tiny bit. Maybe. ;)

G’bye Mills

Miss ya, wee man.

Read More

Radical Radishes & Curried Kittens

I’ve been trying to keep to a schedule for writing here  but with my big cousin’s stag party at the weekend… well, lets just say that I was still trying to recover on Monday.  It was a great night, though, and I’m looking forward to his wedding in a couple of weeks time.

Today I was ready to blow the cobwebs away and raring to get out in the garden.  I wasn’t going to allow a torrential downpour bit of drizzle stop me from getting out there.  That’s what wellies and big leather gloves are for, right?  Today’s task was finally getting rid of the radishes.  When I first grey radishes, hoping for little, lovely, salad bowl crunchies I failed miserably.  I could get them to the right size, shape and crunchiness, even but the taste was just horrid.  Not sure where I was going wrong, but the upshot was too many radishes I didn’t want to eat!

So, having heard that radish seed in many ways approximates mustard seed, I figured I’d leave the ones which were left in the ground and see what happened.  For a start, the bees loved them – radishes have a profuse amount of flowers and they actually smell quite nice. This is, unfortunately, the only photo I have of them close-ish up:

The  radishes, left to grow, became huge and some even seemed to have started growing secondary tubers further down the root.

As it turned out, apparently the seeds on mine didn’t taste any good either, so I dug the lot out of the ground today to make space for winter lettuces.  Smashing them up to go in the compost, though, I noticed the coolest thing:  some of them had become hollow and were supporting small colonies of critters and beasties – including worms! Click on the images for a closer view.

Not all of the radishes were hollow, but I’d had no idea they would even do this.  Pretty funky stuff.  Cool as they were, though, their upheaval was a must – giving me space for my winter lettuces:

Not a tonne of space but, then, that’s the story of this garden as a whole.  Still, as the season comes to a close, I feel that I’ve really managed to make a decent go of growing things in my long-thin strip of dirt.  It’s been great fun and I’m already planning what I will (and won’t) grow next year.  For the record, the garden looks like so at the beginning of September:

Coming to a slow close, but not done yet!

On a completely different note, below is what happens when you leave an inquisitive, greedy wee kitten in a room with an empty curry bowl:

Yes, he’s still with us, and getting chubbier by the day.  Just look at that round wee belly!

Read More

Random Kitten Visits

Last week certainly ended interestingly.  Going to the door after talking to a survey guy, Andy heard a mewing.  When he opened the door a small black and white streak of lightning shot up our hall.  When he called to me to check it out, his voice half laughing, half questioning, I wondered what in the world it could be.  I did not expect, a few moment later, to be holding this little guy:

We have no idea where he came from, none of the people on our street have lost him and chats with the SSPCA, CPL and local vets have been fruitless on the matter of anyone having lost a kitten like him (if full of good advice).  He’s the absolute opposite of Sam – playful, boisterous and into every single thing he can get his paws on.  He’s very obviously still kitteny – though we can’t place his exact age and so can’t figure out if he’s been neutered or is just too under-aged for showing his man-bits.  The toys we bought Sam, which our stoic gentleman has disdained, have been getting some use – as has the cat bed and scratching post which his dignified self also doesn’t bother with.

I’m loving having a cat who will sit on my lap and accepts being picked up and hugged – however, living with a kitten is hard work – especially because we can’t leave him with Sam, so we’re having to lock him in a room on his own (and the mewls are piteous, I assure you).   He loves his food; can’t get enough, actually, and I’ve managed to get him giving me mini-cat ‘hi-five’s’ to get a treat!

Sam is not entirely impressed with our little visitor (whom we’ve named Cai for now so we don’t need to call him ‘the kitten’) and at first was a little scared of him but, although they’re still a bit growly-hissy at times, they’ve sniffed at each other and will happily sit a few feet apart so long as neither makes any sudden moves.  I’m slightly amused that our big bundle of fluff is wary of a kitten one third his size, but he has been a tad skittish of anything ‘new’ since we got him.

We think Cai must have a home out there, somewhere, despite not having a collar – he’s litter trained, for a start, and seems to have been handled.  He was also in pretty good condition when he ran into our house –  a wee bit skinny and dirty but not emaciated enough to have been out in the world for long.  Much as we’d both be happy to keep him, I am hoping that out there, somewhere, is an owner who loves him and is looking for him.  Even if there isn’t, Sam is our first priority and if they don’t chill around each other more, then we can’t keep him even if we want to.

I’ve already taken a tonne of pictures, though, so if his owners do show up, they’ll have a record of his ‘holiday’ ;)

Read More

So, What’s Up?

I have fickle muses – when I do a lot of art my writing falls by the wayside and vice versa.  Thus, because of a recent spate of artyness, my blog has been somewhat neglected.  Typically, this has happened right at the time we’ve actually had quite a bit going on ;)  Given the picture-spam which would happen if I threw everything off my camera into one post, I figure I might split this over a few posts – so expect my posting drought to end in a small deluge.

The biggest change around the place has been the addition of a small, furry, meowing monster – Sam.

We got Sam from the Cats Protection shelter in Alloa.  We picked him because the minute we walked into his pen he head-bumped us and was eager to be friends!  Getting him from there was an adventure, especially since he did not like his carry case and hid the moment it came near his pen.  Despite a shy start – he hid behind the sofa for hours –  he now loves being petted, belly rubbed, chin tickled and generally pampered.  Behind the sofa is still his ‘safe’ space for when visitors are over, but the rest of his time is spent perched on top of it, or on the old pouffe, which is now covered in a layer of kitty-fluff.  He has an odd way of lying – he loves to stretch his neck out as you can see in the last photo.

Although he’s a pretty large cat he doesn’t eat much, though he’s not above mooching for anything in your hand:  grapes, bread, tomato soup… He doesn’t actually want them, no, he’s just enamoured with the idea of food which other people have, it seems.  He loves treats, too, of course, and tuna is great bribery material.

Being as we’re now official cat-people, you can probably expect many cute pictures to grace the pages of the blog ;)

Just before we got Sam, we finally finished our back bedroom.  In winter, a tile had been knocked off the roof and left a small hole.  Come the heavy spring rain we had, we noticed a leak which became a huge and very noticeable damp patch.  Once the rain had abated, and the roof was fixed, we decided we’d actually do the back room up entirely – something we’d wanted to do since we moved in.  In true changing room styles, we have before and after shots:

I’m quite proud of the results – although I’d painted before, neither Andy or I had papered.  We decided to go for thick lining paper under the paint to make sure the walls were nice and smooth.  It was a bit of a pain to work into the corners, but once we got the hang of it, it became a lot easier.  All in all, I think it took us several weeks to get it all done, though most of that was procrastination due to wanting to do it right and not being quite sure how to.  The fact it was scorching hot didn’t help either, as rollering, papering or even glossing the skirting boards became arduous in the sweltering heat.  It now has a tonne of bookshelves, a comfy couch, a lava lamp,and a reading lamp – the perfect den / study.

Read More