Curried parsnip soup

Earlier this week, lovely man came striding home, clutching a rather large bag of parsnips. Waggling them under my nose, he announced, “20p… 20p!”. He continued “20 blinking p! For ALL THESE”. He then waggled them at me again, just in case I hadn’t seen them the first time.

“Brilliant!” I trilled… whilst thinking “What the actual chuff are we going to do with ALL THOSE? We’ll be living off parsnips FOREVER! We will smell of parsnips, FFS!”

I repeated… “Brilliant…. whatever shall we do with all those, darling?”

“No idea – but we’ll think of something,” he said confidently.

For a couple of days, the parsnips sat on the kitchen counter, looking at me. I glared back, trying to summon up some inspiration. Today I decided that they were going to have it… I was going to rustle them into something delicious. A quick Google later, and I had a recipe for curried parsnip soup. It went a bit like this…

  1. Peel and chop the parsnips into cubes
  2. Sautee two onions in some butter, and add ALL THE PARSNIPS
  3. Add about a litre of chicken stock, two teaspoons of medium curry powder and a teaspoon of crushed chillies
  4. Simmer until the parsnips are cooked
  5. Blend until smooth and stir in a big dollop of double cream
  6. If it’s too thick, add a bit of cream, milk or water

I now have four pots of the stuff ready to freeze. I’ve just had a taste, and, Oh My Goodness – it’s a taste sensation. Seriously one of the best soups I’ve ever made… and I’ve dabbled with a few.

My life is now complete

AMEN to curried parsnip soup!

 

Kale

Whoopee! Great news!

The kale seeds only went in the propagator on Sunday, and THEY ARE GERMINATING! We absolutely love kale, and get through bags of the stuff… to be able to pick straight from the plot will be an absolute treat.

I can’t express how excited I am to be growing stuff again.  Spring is most definitely just around the corner, as the mornings and evenings are growing gradually lighter – I love this time of year, as it seems to tingle with anticipation of the start of a new season.

We just need the pear tomatoes to pop up their little heads now… I will be watching them intently!

Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Level lawn

The work has officially begun in the garden. Our chap came and built us a decked area earlier in the year, and I dutifully rescued the plants that were in its path… all forty of them! Last weekend we set about replanting these (happy to report there were no casualties) and levelling the lawn.

Decking area

Decking area

The lawn has been a bit of a problem since I moved in. It started life as a scrappy bit of grass with a god-awful slab path chucked down the middle. I got rid of the path and created some borders – but the lawn has always been a bit uneven. This was highlighted when lovely chap brought his man-sized petrol mower over. The beast just tore up anything that was slightly on the lumpy side. He’s not happy about this and seems determined to have a bowling green.

So… off we went to buy sand… a lot of sand… to bring the lawn up to the same level ready to turf in a week or so. A better shape was cut into the lawn while we were at it, and I’m pleased with the result and can see that the garden will look amazing when everything starts shooting again.

Levelling the lawn

Levelling the lawn

Next job was to put some horse muck into the raised bed compartments. The veg in there was pretty much an afterthought last year, but we have big plans for this year. A trip to our local farm later, and a bit of shovelling and raking later, and the beds were ready for the first house guests. 50 onions and 25 garlic plants, which were popped in this weekend.

Last up, we fired up the heated propagator and we’ve planted cherry tomato seeds and kale.

Bring on the spring… we’re ready for you!

Blooming Marvellous

Today, the hottest day of the year (so far) my social media feeds are full of weather-related comments such as “don’t take your dog out” to “I’m baking to death in my car”, together with pictures of thermometers and friends larking around on beaches. You get the picture… us in the UK just LOVE a good old weather related whinge. We moan when it rains too much, we complain when it’s cold – basically we are a hard nation to please with the antics of Mother Nature. But we have to remember that our seasons are what makes us different… and makes our gardens unique.

Peering out of the window at my little patch (it’s a trifle warm to be out there at the mo – and that’s purely an observation – not a grumble!), it’s come on a long way in the last two years… So I thought I’d share a couple of progress pictures…

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April 2014 – just a patch of scrappy lawn and a god-awful concrete path…

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The patio – work in progress

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The new view down the garden. Out with the scrappy path, in with the borders!

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The bottom seating area… we can follow the sun to the last drop…

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Small but perfectly formed vegetable beds… the first runner beans are almost ready 🙂

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The new view up to the house. The planters to the left are pallets, lined and planted with strawberries. The row of bottles to the top right are an assortment of cava bottles filled with solar fairly lights and their corks have been trimmed down so they fit. They look brilliant at nightfall.

All in all I’m mightily chuffed with the results so far – It’s a beautiful place to entertain and relax with friends. Blooming Marvellous, in fact 🙂 🙂 🙂

Decking – Part 3

This weekend we were on a mission to make headway with the never ending decking project. All the wood was at my Lovely Fit Chap’s (henceforth known as LFC) house, so there was just the ‘small’ task of getting it over to Chook Cottage.

He arranged to borrow a van from work, and duly arrived to pick me up on Friday evening. The van was massive – so maneuvering it around my narrow-ish street was no mean feat – but the boy did good, and we made it through the entire weekend with no mishaps whatsoever.

Decking wood

Just some of the wood to load up

Without further ado we whizzed across to his house and started the mammoth job of getting all the wood loaded up.  We soon had a brilliant system in place where he brought the wood to the van, and I stacked it up in an orderly fashion – so we knew where everything was at the other end. As well as all the decking planks, we had a big pile of rough wood to chop for the fire, and three sections of the old decking base which we planned to turn into raised vegetable beds.

These were first off the van at the other end and we positioned them on the slate garden I laid last year. I set about moving the slate and taking the weed membrane out of each section ready for the topsoil and eventually the plants to go in.

Raised vegetable beds

Raised beds in progress

Next off the van was the wood for the decking. As fast as LFC could unload the wood and bring it to the garden, I was busily putting it in place on the base, to make sure we had enough planks to complete the job. In no time at all, it was all down in rough and we can finally start to see how the finished project will look. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s going to look pretty darn good!

Rough decking

Rough decking

Seeding the lawn

When I moved from Chook Towers to Chook Cottage, the garden was nothing but a scrap of lawn with an old path down the middle. The first job was to dig up a bit, get some veggies in, and install a seating area at the bottom.

Standing back, I was pleased to see it was coming along like I’d planned it (I hadn’t much) – but the path was bugging me. It was old, it was tatty, and it chopped the garden up into two distinct halves. So I stuck it on a Facebook free site and some kind people nipped round, dug it up and took it away with them.

Then came the next challenge. One side of the lawn is pretty much there – quite level, and grassy. The other side – where the chickens live – is uneven and weedy. Not sure quite how I’d marry the two up, I’ve decided to dig over the weedy bit, level it all up to the grassy bit, and sow seed. I should then end up with a nice lawn which I can then chop about into a country cottage type shape, and whack some plants in.

So, wellies on, I set to work. The chooks were moved up the garden a bit to give a bit of space, and in no time at all I had a weed/grass free patch, which I raked, trod over, raked again and sprinkled grass seed on the top. A gentle rake over to incorporate the seed into the soil, and hopefully my new bit of lawn will start sprouting any time soon.

The biggest challenge will be to keep the new puppy off it – she LOVES to dig 🙂

Gardening over, I glanced at my watch and discovered I’d actually been on the job for a while, and I’d only just left myself enough time for a quick shower and spruce up before I was getting picked up. Yes. Picked up. By a man. With a pulse, and a cheeky smile to boot.

It seems I must have managed the transformation from grubby oik to glamour puss quite well. When I opened the door to him, I definitely got a low whistle and a “Wow!”.

#StillGotIt

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Goodbye greenhouse

This week I’ve made a groundbreaking discovery. I don’t actually need a greenhouse. Yes – true… after a couple of years of pottering around and potting up in my old one, my new house doesn’t actually need one at all!

When I first moved to the new pad, a greenhouse was definitely on the must-have list, so I bought a second hand one which my brother in law very kindly helped me to dismantle and bring home. This has sat in bits in the garden since, although I did spend a frustrating and head-scratching afternoon assembling all the side panels.

Then a visit with my friend to some open gardens last weekend changed all of that. The gardens were part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) where villagers open up their pride and joys, all in the name of charity. Off we trotted to the Cotswolds, hoping to be inspired and delighted. And inspired I most definitely was. Within these gardens were riots of colour, sweeping lawns, grand water features, rambling climbers… and hardly any of them contained a greenhouse.

So I decided that that’s the way my garden would go. Old, rambly, cottagey… you get the picture. The main priority is to fill the garden with lots and lots of flowers, and the vegetables can be put in alongside them. I think it will look marvellous.

The greenhouse is now sold on to its lucky new owner, and I’m itching to dig up some big borders. I have to say at this point that when I mentioned the demise of the greenhouse to said brother in law, he fixed me with a steely gaze that could have actually burned the retinas off my eyeballs. He clearly remembered with fondness the long sweaty afternoon getting the thing down. I did a bit of emergency grovelling, and I think he’s over it now…

Meanwhile on the plot, the two surviving runner beans (out of 12) are SPRINTING up the canes, and I’ve already spotted the first red flowers beginning to form. I may plant some bean seeds at the bases of the empty canes to try their luck for a late harvest. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

However, I’m delighted to say that the French beans all appear to have avoided any slug damage, and they are looking thick, healthy and lush. An added bonus, as I’ve never had any luck with Frenchies in the past. The rows of broccoli are also doing well, as are the leeks.

French beans

French beans

On the down side, the cabbages, cauliflowers and turnips are looking decidedly sorry for themselves. Although I’ve managed to cut down the slug population a little, the ones I have left are definitely sneaking out for a midnight snack still. There lies my slight dilemma. Do I cut my losses and have all the ropey-looking stuff out, or do I leave them in to act as sacrificial veggies?

Because if the slugs are eating them, they’re staying away from my good stuff for now.

Tom Tatos

Not having a greenhouse at present, I’m growing my tomatoes in a sunny spot, in growbags outside. There are three varieties – Tigerella which should be stripy (clue’s in the name), cherry tomatoes for salads, and the one I’m most interested to see the results of – sons of Beefy. Well, OK, that’s not the Latin name, but these plants were grown from the seeds I saved from my biggest, beefiest beef tomato last year. I’m hoping for some whoppers!

So far, so good. They are all appear healthy and strong and I’ve already spotted my first tomato hanging provocatively from one of the branches. I’ve been diligently nipping out the bits that grow in the ‘V’  between the stem and the leaves, so the plants funnel all their energy into producing fruits and the air circulates more freely around them. It’ll soon be time to begin their feeding regime too. Exciting stuff.

Recently having a drink with a friend, the conversation inevitably turned to gardening, and he asked me, “What do you reckon to those Tom Tato thingies?”

If you haven’t come across these yet, they’re a relatively new type of plant where you get potatoes from the soil and tomatoes from the foiliage – all from the SAME plant. Although I haven’t tried them for myself, it’s my opinion that you can muck about with stuff a little too much in the name of scientific research. The involuntary frown and curl of my lip must have given my thoughts away.

“I don’t get them”, I replied. “Yes, I understand that potatoes and tomatoes come from the same family of plants, but it just seems a bit wrong to mix them up together. Isn’t it a bit like marrying your cousin?”

I then continued with, “Plants that grow up produce things that you chop off and eat – ie beans, brassicas and salad. Plants that grow down produce things that you dig up and eat – ie carrots, spuds and parsnips. Not many vegetables can multitask well with the up AND down approach. Except maybe beetroot – you can add their leaves to a bowl of salad.”

“Think about it. You’re merrily watering your Tom Tato plant. What’s to stop all the spuds greedily sucking out all the goodness in the soil and leaving none left to travel up to the tomatoey bit? You could end up with mahoosive potatoes and spindly little tomatoes. How does it get the balance right?” I concluded with, “To get any sort of decent harvest from both ends, I’d imagine you’d have to feed the neck out of the damn things”.

Now readers may well have had sterling results with their Tom Tatoes – and I really do hope that you have, but like I said earlier, I haven’t tried growing one. And I don’t actually think I ever will. Call me old fashioned, but I just can’t fully trust the idea

All change at Chook Towers

With the winter behind us, and spring most definitely on its way, it seems a veeeery long time since I’ve been a Bloggy Blogster. The fingers are a bit rusty, the thoughts a bit fuddled… but bear with me… I’ll get the hang of it all again, you’ll see.

We’ve had a few major changes here at Chook Towers. For one, our oldest hen Maud croaked it a couple of months back. One day she was Queen of the Coop, strutting around with the best of them: the next she’d slipped away in the night. Every cloud has a silver lining though – she hadn’t laid for AGES, and since her demise, we’ve found out who the ‘Phantom Shitter in the Nest Box’ was. Our eggs are beautifully clean now!

The other big change is about to take place in… oooh… just over a week. I’m moving to a new house, with a new garden. So no more raised beds, greenhouse, and no more tales from Cluckingham Palace. The new garden comes complete with a lawn, a path, a shed… and, well, that’s about it really. Some would be daunted by the prospect, but I’m looking at it as an entire blank canvas that I can dig up and plant to my heart’s content. There. Another silver lining comes my way 🙂

All’s not gloomy though – I already have an Eglu (that’s a rather posh hen house to you), and a greenhouse earmarked to dismantle in a week or two.The Eglu travelled 140 miles in the back of my Mini (I kid you not), and the greenhouse actually belonged to one of the houses I looked at in my new house search.

The rest of the garden will take shape around them… pics to follow in later posts.

So off to pastures new – wish me luck!

 

I’m a celebrity – get me out of here!

Today I discovered something rather unsettling about myself. Always being the one called upon to retrieve massive spiders from the school showers (and to my shame sometimes waving them in the faces of the arachnophobes in the class complete with a ‘woooo‘ noise); and having the ability to fell a slug with one swift jab of a trowel, I thought I was rather fearless. But now I know for certain that I’d be rubbish on ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here‘. I’d be fine with the insects and crawly things – no problem at all – but rodents might prove a tad more challenging.

Feeding time for the chickens turned into rather an adventure today. On opening the lid of the food container, I was surprised startled bloody terrified to discover a mouse running amok in there, having a right old party for one. To my utter shame, I screeched like a complete girl and made an extremely sharp exit out of the shed.

But the food pot was empty, and the girls were prancing around in the run making noises that translated to, “Oi, Mush! We’re staaaaarving!”, so there was no option: I was just going to have to man up about the whole thing.

Pulling the container complete with mouse out into the open, I tipped it on its side and rattled it around a bit. Nothing came out: Mr Mouse was obviously more than comfortable in there. With my heart in my throat, and my legs all a-quiver, I peered inside to find I’d actually managed to trap him underneath the pellet scoop. Marvellous!

Using the longest stick I could find, and standing the furthest possible distance away, I poked the scoop over, and out scampered the mouse, happily making his dash for freedom, while I pranced around making sure he didn’t dash up my trouser leg.

Feeding time over, I made a mental note that if Ant and Dec ever called me up for a trip to the jungle, I’d have to politely decline…