28 May 2013

Last Week's Winners and Losers


1. Potatoes. Yes they are easy to grow, but they are satisfying to grow too. And they're tasty.
All of our potatoes (first and second earliers and main crop) have come up and soon we'll be feasting on new potatoes. I'll be sure to let you know when that is.
2. Parsnips. They have come up too! There we were, crawling in mud, admiring the little seedlings. I wonder if growing parsnips will provide this much entertainment every year. For us and the rest of the allotment holders who were wondering what were up to with our noses on the ground.
3. Artichokes. Already this big! Bearing in mind, 10 days ago I thought nothing would come of it. If our plants actually form any flower heads I will regard it as one of my greatest achievements. (In life, for the avoidance of any doubt).
+ 1 because I'm a chipper person: the peony! Nearly ready to bloom.


1. Borlotti beans. They went out on a sunny week and have been growing like mad, but now they are not liking the cold and the rain. And they look sad.
2. Butternut squashes. As above. We probably planted them out bit too early, but they were so eager to get out of their pots.
3. New strawberry plants. Most of the new strawberry plants are struggling in the new well dug over and fertilised raised bed. Any ideas why?

Mr and Mrs V x

26 May 2013

An ode to vegetables and summer - Pasta Verduro

This pasta is simple and quick to make, but don't be fooled by this- it is amazingly tasty! And the best part of it is, without a doubt, that it is packed with fresh veg! I think everyone should make this pasta. I'm being serious. Even if you're not keen on vegetables. If you don't believe me, ask Mr V who wasn't always keen on vegetables and he always goes in for seconds when we're having this plateful of summer of dinner.

For four people, you will need:

50 ml of olive oil
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small aubergine, chopped
2 small courgettes, chopped
4 garlic gloves
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tomatoes, chopped (I used cherry tomatoes this time)
150 ml of white wine
1 spring of rosemary
black pepper
fresh herbs, chopped (basil, parsley etc)
400 grams of pasta
200 grams of goat cheese (I made without this time but it is definitely a good addition)

In a heavy based pan, add half of the oil and  sweat the peppers for couple of minutes. Lift the peppers out of the pan onto a plate and add rest of the oil with the aubergine to the pan and sweat them too. Lift them out of the pan to keep the peppers companion. Add the courgette to the pan. After couple of minutes stir in the garlic, chilli flakes, aubergine and peppers. Then mix in the tomatoes, white wine, sprig of rosemary, salt and pepper. Let simmer for 8-10 minutes with a lid on. During this time the vegetables will release their liquid. Take the lid off and let simmer for 20 minutes. Check the flavours and add the fresh herbs to the vegetable mix. Cook the pasta. Mix the pasta with the sauce and leave for couple of minutes. Place the goat cheese on top of the pasta and serve immediately.

This amazing recipe is from the cook book Safkaa by Alexander and Hanna Gullichsen.

Mrs V x

22 May 2013

What is this?

This fascinating looking weed was hiding behind our rosemary bush. The spikes are soft. I've tried googling this without any results. Any ideas?

EDIT: Most people seem to think it is goosberry bush, but goosberry doesn't have soft spikes? More guesses?

Mrs V x

20 May 2013

Brick wall

Sometimes you hit a brick wall with allotmenteering.

The parnips still haven't come up. It's been at least eight weeks now. Have they all failed?
Very immaturely you want to jump up at down and shout at them 'Grow! Grow!'
But you know it wouldn't help.
And why do the birds keep targeting the pea plants? There's no need for that.
Slugs. Enough said.
Why can't it be nice summer weather now? Even in Scandinavia it is closer to 30 degrees!
I bet I planted the artichoke suckers wrong way around and they have died.
And where do all these weeds come from?

Let's plant these beans plants then.
Enjoy the fresh air.

They are actually quite fine looking borlotti bean plants.
The first and second earlies have come up. There will be tasty little potatoes ready for digging up soon.
Beetroot, romanesco cauliflower and bean sprout seedlings are all looking healthy.
The peony is about to bloom.
The shoots of the onions have doubled in height since last week.

You take the cardigan off - the weather has actually been better than in ages.
Start to think about it, the parsnips seeds were only sown 4 weeks ago.
And weeds, well.. they're just weeds. Nothing worse than that.

And just when you're about to leave for the day, Mr V points out the tiny little artichoke shoots that are poking their heads up from the soil.

Life's wonderful.

Gardening, my favourite hobby.

It develops your patience. And it rewards you. Often sooner than you think.

 Mrs V x

19 May 2013

Quick Party Nibbles

To me, great food is an important part of a great party. Sometimes you don't have the time to spend hours in the kitchen and you want something that is quick, simple and tasty. On these occasions, I put these 4 dishes together. The two last ones don't even justify to be called recipes as they are mere cases of little bit of chopping and assembling.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon

Potato Cakes

3 eggs
125 ml semi-skimmed milk
2 finely sliced spring onions
2 x tablespoons of olive oil
60g instant mashed potato granules 
(btw, this recipe is the only time I think it's fine to use potato granules)
40g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice


300g smoked salmon
1 small bunch of fresh dill

Whisk the eggs, milk, spring onions and olive oil together in a batter jug. Stir in the potato granules, flour, baking powder and lemon juice. Heat a frying pan and drop a tablespoonful of the mixture to the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds a side, or until golden brown and firm enough at the sides to flip. Let the cakes cool down, tear off strips of smoked salmon and roll a piece on each cake. Decorate with fresh dill. This recipe makes approximately 30 potato cakes.

 Cocktail Sausages

1 kg cocktail sausages
2 tablespoons sesame oil
125 ml honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Arrange the sausages in a large, shallow-sided roasting tin (and separate them if they are linked). Whisk together the oil, honey and soy sauce. Pour the mixture over the sausages and mix to make sure all the sausages are covered in the mixture. Roast for 25-30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 220 C.

The above recipes are by the queen of good food Nigella Lawson (Nigella Express).

Tomato and Mozzarella filled Croustades

24 mini croustades
12 cherry tomatoes 
12 mozzarella pearls 

Halve tomatoes and mozzarella pearls and place in the croustades. 
'Draw' a little line with pesto between the two halves.

Fruit kebabs

Chop the fruit of your choice and assemble on skewers. Simples.

All served with cold drinks and good company. 

Mrs V x

13 May 2013

Coffea Arabica and Life Stories

For those who knew me before, it may have come as quite a surprise that I was about to take on allotment, and not a very small plot either, a plot the size of a half of field. You see, I'm not very talented with house plants. When promising to look after my mum's plants when she is on holidays, the shock of  'oh my god, I've forgotten to give water to the plants....again' would always hit me the day before her return. My solution: giving each plant a pint or two of water at one go. Usually the herbs could not be saved after sitting on a sunny window seal for two weeks. My solution: Go to the nearest store and buy new ones to replace the dead ones. And one of my greatest shows of negligence must have been letting a cactus die of thirst! True story.

I have always appreciated the beauty of cut flowers though and to compensate the lack of house plants you can often find cut flowers at our home. They are easy- they will wilt eventually anyway, so you don't have to feel terrible when throwing them away.

Consequently, I'm still slightly astonished any seedlings developed into plants and eventually to vegetables under my surpervision last year (let's hope this wasn't beginner's luck!).  After taking on the allotment few house plants have started to appear around our home, like this gorgeous coffee plant Coffea Arabica. It is an evergreen and its glossy dark-green leaves with ruffled edges makes it a true beauty. It is actually a shrud or a tree  and can reach 4 metres in height- luckily we have high rooms! Or alternatively I just let those secateurs talk and prune it when it reaches that stage. This is a thirsty little plant too- it enjoys the soil thoroughly moist in spring and summer.

Naturally, I'm not expecting it to produce flowers and bear fruit which would eventually hide the seeds/coffee beans inside them, but what would be cooler than having your morning coffee roasted and ground from coffee beans you have grown. Possibly nothing. My research tells me it could take 3 to 4 years to get to this stage though, so hopefully I'll manage to keep it alive till then.

Mrs V x

12 May 2013

Crazy about Carrots

Another busy day at the allotment today. After some weeding and general maintenance, we concentrated on the carrot bed. It had been dug and raked over several times, so let's hope them little carrots will enjoy the comfortable bed.  We are growing five different varieties this year which will cover pretty much every colour of the rainbow and brighten any plate: gorgeously rich coloured Purple Haze, sweet Yellowstone, the stunning Rainbow, the bright orange Sugarsnax and the late Autumn King.

Unfortunately, last year we got acquainted with carrot fly, which went straight into our list of the little devils you want to avoid. It appeared that the smell of our tasty onions grown in rows between the carrots were not enough to keep the mischievous pest away. Last autumn our paths crossed with a carrot farmer who advised us to build a 45 cm high barrier or to cover the carrots with a fine mesh/fabric as the way forward and as a result Mr V has come up with some plans for a barrier built from recycled materials. We will still plant rows of spring onions between the carrot rows as an insurance policy.

The naughty slugs have come out of their hiding and they've had a bit of a nibble on our pea seedlings. To ensure this won't happen again, it was time for some serious slug pellet action and a couple of minutes later the the ground was covered with little blue pellets. I may have gone a bit overboard.

We also had a little bit of a inventory at the greenhouse and the current situation is looking better than expected. The aim is to have 4 of each of the following: Charmant, Crown Prince and Hooligan and cat presents we will only need one Crown Prince more. The courgettes have gotten a bit carried away with 5 plants having germinated, the 3 butternut squashes are all we need and we only need one more gourd plant. We had to sow more runner beans though, since about half of these have not germinated. Since last week, the sweet corn has doubled in size and the sun flowers look like they will be ready to enjoy the outsides of the greenhouse as soon as there is some sun again.

Next week will include building projects; in addition to the barrier for carrots, the mange tout is in need of support. We have quite some plans in the pipeline, so watch this space.

Mr & Mrs V x

8 May 2013

Rhubarb & Strawberry Jam

It's finally time for my first recipe post! Bit nervous, but hope you like it!

Our allotment has provided us with an abundance of rhubarb and what could be a better way to preserve one of the first harvests of the year than by jamming it up.

You will need

700 ml of chopped rhubarb
800 ml of chopped strawberries
700 ml of jam sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Liquid pectin (optional)

Put a small plate or saucer in the freezer (don't worry- this will make sense later on). Mix the chopped rhubarb, strawberries and sugar together in a pan off the heat. Place your pan on the hob and bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and zest to the pan. Let it simmer gently for approximately 15-20 minutes. If you're using liquid pectin, stir it to the mixture at this point and let it simmer for a couple more minutes. To check if your jam is ready, take out the plate from the freezer, drop a little jam onto the plate. Leave it for a minute and then push your finger through it. If the skin wrinkles on top, the jam is ready- if not, boil for another couple of minutes and check again. You can also taste the jam at this point and adjust the flavours if needed. Pour into sterilised jars and let them cool completely. This makes approximately 1 litre of jam.

Let me know what you think. Of the post. Or the jam. Or life in general. 

Mrs V x

6 May 2013

Meanwhile in the greenhouse...

Nearly all of the beans have come up.

Purple French Beans Blauhilde

Remember these bad boys?

And Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our first ever Hooligan!

Mr and Mrs V x

5 May 2013

3 great things about this weekend

1. The sun makes wonderful things happen at the allotment and it does wonders to one's soul too.

The herb oasis has been tidied up, sage is recovering from the frost damages, parsley and rosemary are going strong, mint has started to appear again and coriander seeds have been sown among other things. 

There are buds and flowers everywhere. 

Not long till strawberries (well, hopefully). 

2. There is an abundance of rhubarb! So far this has meant rhubarb & strawberry jam, rhubarb cake, rhubarb crumble and stewed rhubarb.

3. You come home feeling tired but knowing you've been productive and the days when you leave the allotment with a basketful of veggie goodies are on their way.

 Mr and Mrs V x

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