Enjoying a sunny Bank Holiday weekend

What a glorious weekend, both the weather and length were appreciated here.  And there was plenty going on, as well as the usual domestic chores we made time for an eighteen mile cycle in sunny Kent, cocktails, barbecues, pizzas, some pottering in the greenhouse, relaxing on sun loungers and getting my nose into a book. 

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxentreider is a book I've had since it came out and one I've been meaning to read for a while. I follow her blog and this book is of how she and her husband travelled for a year with their three kids. I'd read the preparation posts on the blog as they prepared to leave and so was keen to see how it all went. Already it's obvious it's an amazing experience, and I'm in the final three months and (in the book) currently in Rome.  I' not sure if I hadn't already been following Tsh's blog, or unless I was tempted to up sticks myself, if I'd be so interested in reading this book, and I guess that's not something I can answer. I'm enjoying the family's progress on their trip though.

And what better way to celebrate the return of the good weather, than with cocktails? MOH took the hint and so I quickly picked enough mint for the garden and he set about making Mint Juleps. There's a recipe in the most recent Good Food magazine, and rather tasty it was too. 

MOH took the hint and made mint julep cocktails

So we had another one!

Mint Julep cocktails and nibbles

The steak was on the barbecue and the garden candles were lit.  Each of the evenings have been warm haven't they - but sadly they haven't been bug free. There's been bites, but just small ones, not the nasty sort I've had recently.  Thankfully the sting from last weekend is calming down now.  Not a bad view is it?

Enjoying a candlelit garden

It's been nice to eat breakfast outside too. Yesterday buoyed by advice from last week's Celebrity Masterchef MOH tried poached eggs, and had his most success ever. Which is good as I'm a big fan of poached eggs!

Shortly after breakfast there was a bit of a flapping commotion inside the house. Confused as to what it might be, we headed inside to investigate.  I don't think either of us expected to see this.

an unexpected visitor

It was huge and the most beautiful green - which sadly isn't showing in the photos - windows were opened and fittingly The Garden magazine was used to shepherd it out into the open. 

After an allotment visit we left with more runner beans and counted many more borlotti beans ripening. Runner bean pasta is on the menu this week I think. 

Our weekend finished with pizzas in the pizza oven. The pizza dough I'd frozen worked well and was nowhere near as sticky as I'd expected it to be so I'm counting that as a success. There were no pizzas left so that's a success too.

And remember those dropped apricots? Well, we had another go, which was much more successful - and tasty too.  And there's enough left over for my lunch tomorrow too...

Apricots cooked with thyme and vanilla - and not dropped in the dirt this time

How was your Bank Holiday weekend?

A day in the kitchen: (almost) domestic goddess-ing

Despite having the best looking veg box delivered last week, somehow lunches didn't happen as I'd hoped. They were hastily grabbed and probably not the healthiest option and I was keen not to repeat that again this week.  So yesterday I spent some time prepping and cooking in the kitchen so that I stood half a chance.

If you didn't see my pretty and tasty veg box, here's my Facebook post:

The box was so good - it's the type of box where you can choose your items - that our second box is arriving before we head to work this morning. We usually buy our fruit and veg from our local greengrocers, but just lately the quality seems to have gone down while the price has gone up and so I've been looking at other options. The price of this box is similar but the quality - and freshness - of the produce is far superior.

As well as these we also had some raspberries from the allotment to use - most are in the freezer - so my day of Domestic Godess-ing started with banana, apple and raspberry spelt pancakes, which of course we topped with greek yogurt, more apple puree and honey. They're good, and I use the recipe in Hugh's River Cottage Everyday as my base. I'm not sure I ever really follow it - for a start it doesn't have banana in it - but you'll discover through this post, I often only use a recipe as a guide.

Back to those lunches...

And yes, if you've scrolled down that is cake. But a homemade cake so I think that's slightly better. And any lunch this ends with cake is even better still.  

So this is my take on Elly Pear's apple and banana cake. It does have quite a bit of sugar in, as I discovered as I started to make it - oops.  Well, I consoled myself that it was helping me reduce the mountain of frozen bananas I have in the freezer.  The recipe says to use overripe bananas, not frozen ones, but I sort of adapted the recipe a bit, I also didn't add the second topping, purely because by the time it was in the oven I had moved onto other things.

Elly Pear's apple and banana cake my style

The cake recipe says it serves ten, even for a big cake person like me, I think it'll do more than that. Maybe next time though I should opt for a healthier cake, I will, if I remember. There is more to our lunches than cake, but rolls get boring (and sandwiches aren't my thing) so I've turned to those kinds of lunches where there's salad, protein and grains with lots of variety.

To help get us back on track with weekday lunches, yesterday I cooked some greenwheat freekeh and knocked up another batch and a half of Elly Pear's green harissa. I was only going to make a single batch, but my kitchen scales went a bit loopy with the coriander and so it became a batch and a half.

I think I agree with her about it being addictive, and who'd have thought that spring onions, kale, coriander, garlic, pickled jalapenos, salt and vegetable oil could produce such a winning combination.

Elly Pear's Green Harissa (it's addictive) and some freekeh for lunch

In her newest book there's also recipes using the paste - I cooked the green eggs and refried beans, and we'll be having that again. Maybe not this batch though, as a spoonful alongside grains, salad and roasted vegetables will give our lunches a bit of zing, and there's more recipes I want to try in her books too.

And a batch of pizza dough 

While the cake was cooking I was making a batch of pizza dough, as with the weather nice again we decided to fire up the pizza oven. There seemed little point making enough for one meal though so in the end I made enough for what turned out to be three occasions.  With a kilo of flour, plenty of yeast, some olive oil, salt and tepid water it's a sticky, but enthusiastic dough.

I've still the perfect my take on the recipe, but when I do I'll share it here. Already we've found that the simplest pizza toppings are the best: tomato sauce, torn mozzarella and torn basil, or with some shavings of spicy nduja sausage.

Here's one serving of the dough during its second prove, it's enough for four pizzas the size of a large side plate and a smaller, test, garlic bread pizza. With another two "meals" in the freezer, the self appointed domestic goddess title was starting to be earnt.

pizza dough on its second prove and ready to shape

But I wasn't done there as while the pizza oven was on, it seemed a missed opportunity not to make use of the heat as the oven cooled down. So the apricots from my veg box were split and doused with thyme, vanilla sugar, water and a vanilla pod. A combination I remembered seeing online recently and was looking forward to trying out. 

Apricots with thyme and vanilla ready for the pizza oven

Each year I forget just how much I like apricots and I was really looking forward to trying these. 

Outside finally the pizza oven was getting there, and pizzas were cooked and eaten. No pictures, as by now I was hungry. I'd also made some crumble to keep in the fridge to meet emergency crumble needs, and following the suggestion of rhubarb crumble in an earlier comment, it seemed the only way to go.  

Getting the pizza oven fired up took longer than we thought

Not content with that I'd also made a good looking, and well-risen sourdough to cook in the pizza oven. We knew it was possible, but as we discovered our oven was still too hot. The crust crusted up well, but before the bread could continue to rise in the heat, and it came out looking like this - oops.

Cooking sourdough in the pizza oven needs a little more practice
Our pizza oven sourdough tasted better than it looked

Thankfully though it tasted better than it looked and so we'll be eating this for breakfast this week. And trying again, every time we fire up the pizza oven. 

That wasn't our only mishap though as it turns out I needed my emergency crumble sooner than I thought too. That turned out much better than the bread, especially dolloped with mascarpone and eaten straight out of the tin as soon as it was done. It seemed rude not to.

A change of plan on dessert, rhubarb crumble & mascarpone

But what became of the apricots? 

The short answer is, not much and quite a lot! They cooked well and were just starting to catch so MOH took them out of the oven. And promptly dropped them. 

Apricots and dirt anyone? No, me neither

Strangely, after that neither of us wanted any...   Ah well, another time maybe.  

Softening our gabion seating area with plants

Right from the off, back in May when our plans were hastily redrawn after just happening to buy a pizza oven, I planned to have a second row of gabion baskets and plant them up with plants from our garden. MOH was less sure about this part of the plan, but as he wanted a pizza oven he went along with it.  I thought that adding at least a tonne of hardcore at the back of our garden would need some softening and I think the two photos below show that I was right.





The difference is amazing isn't it? I'm pleased I persevered with this as not only did it help us lose some of the soil we've been collecting but it helps the new structure stand out less, which may seem an odd thing to say but it gives it a more natural feel. 

So how did I turn them into planters?

The answer is membrane. I could have used plastic but that's non-permeable and so they would eventually become like mini bog gardens, that's fine if that's the look you're going for, and if you're planting plants that like those conditions, but I wanted to use the plants that I'd displaced - the ferns, as well as some other plants from around our garden. Crocosmias seem to grow two a penny and I had a pot of those from where I laid some of the old patio paving slabs under the cherry tree. I'd also been collecting sedums and so those were destined for their too.  The final plant I wanted to include was a foxglove that was growing in a pot. Not the usual place for foxgloves but I wasn't sure if it was a weed or a plant (it was a plant) so had moved it there for observation. 

But first things first, membrane.

add membrane to gabion baskets to use them as planters

I cut two ultra-long lengths and used them to line the baskets in a cross form. I found that securing them with string worked well and quickly found a way to do this so the string was out of sight. On seeing them MOH said they looked like waste bins... Hmmmm.  With soil added, less so I think?

In went the plants, and more soil to top up the baskets. And as with any planting they got a good long water.

Planted with ferns, crocosmia, sedums and digitalis sourced from the garden

And they seemed to thrive. Even the foxglove that was moved while it was flowering seemed happy - phew. 

The foxglove was in flower when I moved it - it'd been growing in a pot - but it coped well with the move to our gabion planters

I'm a fan of dense planting and especially in this kind of space it's worked well. Nearly two months later and the plants have settled in really well, filling out and softening the space as I'd hoped. 

the plants have settled in well and are softening the area, just as I hoped
sedums growing in our gabion planters

We've still a little more to do, as I want to add a further gabion basket planter on the end so that each of the three seats have plants behind them, but that's just finding the time to level the soil, line the basket and fill it with soil. I've a couple more ferns and crocosmias waiting to go into that space, so the plants are sorted.

I also want to line the three triangular spaces between the seats with membrane in the same way and plant those up with camomile, penny royal (a ground covering mint variety) and thyme, so that when you sit there and brush against the herbs you get a waft of scent too.  This, alongside sorting out the front of the baskets - I think it needs some kind of step - and then I'll happily declare this part of the garden finished.

What do you think?

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