Bryony's Blog

BACK IN THE APRON - YEE HA!

(27/04/11)

LIGHT SPRING FLAN – Perfect for lunch for 4 if served with a green salad and perhaps some garlic bread.

After the flu bug and my knee op (both of which I am still recovering from) my taste buds have disappeared along with my wish to cook, eat or anything to do with preparing food. It might simply be tiredness or else the mountain of tablets I have had to consume over the last few weeks. However, my weight loss has been extraordinary and I am now 11 stone – a miracle! Now the problem is to continue to loose (gently) and to keep it off...

I actually felt like cooking this morning and made a rhubarb loaf (still in the oven) from a recipe found in one of Sunday's supplements. It looks and smells delicious although it was quite a fiddle to do and horrendously fattening! I also dusted down and washed my very ancient non-electric yoghurt making Thermos which I purchased from Good Housekeeping in the 70s and made a pint of creamy, scrumptious yoghurt. It is so very different from the commercially bought stuff and the more you make, the sweeter it becomes because the commercial acidity eventually disappears - reducing the need for anything sugary.

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For the flan you will need:

Either a handful (about 250 g) of Swiss chard or 1 small packet of organic spinach
Bunch of asparagus
2 tablespoons of crθme fraiche
1 good cup of grated cheese of your choice
1 heaped dessert spoon of flour – self raising or plain, it doesn't matter
Either two egg yolks and one extra large egg OR two large eggs, lightly beaten
Heaped tablespoon of fresh herbs: parsley, basil, chervil – whatever is available – don't use rosemary s it's too strong
2 tomatoes, sliced
salt and pepper

There were two stray egg yolks left over from the rhubarb loaf and I hummed and haahed as to whether I would make scrambled eggs for lunch, an omelette or something else. Wandering down to the veggie patch there were enough asparagus spears begging to be picked and a few shiny leaves of Swiss chard which survived the wicked winter snows and which are now pushing up a final flurry of growth. I also gathered some self-sown chervil which is a delicious, lightly aniseedy flavoured herb which goes wonderfully with eggs, pasta, almost anything savoury in fact. Once you have sown this in your garden new seedlings crop up each spring – a bit like forget-me-nots- and I don't ever have to sow it again. I also picked some parsley which is on the point of bolting (see tip below).

Back in the kitchen I washed the chard and wilted it for two minutes in a pan with a little boiling water. Once drained, I chopped it roughly and laid it on the bottom of a small round flan dish. I washed the asparagus and cut it into one inch pieces and put this (raw) on top of the chard. Finally, I sliced two rather tired tomatoes which would be better cooked and added these to the other vegetables.

In a separate bowl I beat the left over egg yolks with the other large egg, added the flour, crθme fraiche, salt and pepper, chopped herbs and a good cupful of grated cheese. I used a mixture of parmesan and emmental, although if I had any in the fridge, I would have added some gruyere. It doesn't really matter what you use – cheddar is fine, or lumps of mozzarella and even feta – it will just give a slightly different flavour and texture once cooked.

I poured the thick, cheesy sauce over the vegetables and baked it in a moderately hot oven for about 25-30 minutes until it was puffed up, golden brown and cooked through. It was light, tasty, and extremely healthy given that most of the ingredients were actually growing in the garden minutes before being bunged in the oven!

TIP: I used always to grow parsley from seed but it is notoriously difficult to germinate. Some gardeners advocate pouring hot water from a kettle along the row after sowing to encourage the tiny seeds into life, others say that if parsley grows well in your garden it is the woman who wears the trousers...I'm not making any comment on THAT one! Also, you never offer a bunch of parsley to a friend – they have to steal it surreptitiously without you knowing.

Therefore in order to expedite matters, I always buy a small, young pot of parsley from the supermarket. Once home, I water it well, prepare the soil into a crumbly mess and prise apart the seedlings. Then I plant these little clumps (as few as is possible – perhaps 3 or 4 seedlings) in a row, a good six inches apart. Water them in well and leave them to get on with it. They will look pretty miserable for a week or so and some of the leaves will go brown and die, but be patient – out of sight they will be setting down a good root system and in no time at all you will have healthy, bushy plants ready to harvest. They should survive the winter (even better if given the protection of a cloche or fleece tunnel) and will carry on until they begin to bolt in the spring, when you start the process all over again. A lot less hassle than doing it the orthodox way.

I do exactly the same with basil – buying a small pot of young seedlings and separating them before planting into pots to begin with and then into a sunny, sheltered spot in the veg patch.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, our visiting ducks Gwynneth and Oscar Poultry call in regularly for a swim and a feed, only Oscar has been flying solo recently. No doubt Gwynneth is sitting on her eggs. However, this morning he flew across the garden making a lot of noise and landed in the swimming pool!

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Where have I been???

(18/04/11)

This blog will keep everyone explain my uncharacteristic silence over the last few weeks...

First of all, I was felled by the worst attack of flu I have ever had in my life which kept me in bed (delirious, fever, cough, cough, coughing) for two weeks to the day. In spite of having a flu jab, this particularly vicious strain was not included in the mix. I have never felt so ill in my life, but with brilliant nursing from Catherine (friend) and Neil (brother) I pulled through. Our postman had it (also a fortnight in bed) and another friend that I know of. It seemed to be very selective and didn't affect anyone else near, which is extraordinary – that was about the only blessing. I was due to have a half knee replacement but had to cancel the operation and so this was re-scheduled for two weeks ago today. I have never known such pain in my life... I told the consultant that this is why I have only ever had labradors and not babies! However, I am home again, still very sore but apparently it's mending and will feel better in time. Also, my weight loss is now 2 stone since I started, but I strongly advise not to follow my example as a method of dieting!

April, in spite of the most beautiful spring weather which sadly I could not enjoy because I was stuck in bed, also brought about more disasters: the heron made a daily appearance at first light and in spite of our complicated netting system dispatched most of our fish, spearing those he couldn't get through the net, leaving them to die. Also, the fox got into the chicken run for the first time in four years and took away Robbo, our beautiful grey maran. Mike found her half-eaten and half-buried by the bee hives. He dug her proper grave and then checked on the fencing, finding exactly where the fox got in, securing it to prevent further distruction. We are now down to three girls, but the flock will be increased when I am up and running properly again as I am being give two bantams from some dear friends for my 60th birthday. They will be great fun to watch and something different – I have already named them Pauline and Hilary. Don't ask me why...

With regard to the garden, I managed to sow some broad beans, garlic, lots of mixed lettuces and leeks in the greenhouse before I was struck by the lurgy. For a change I sowed everything in small pots, the beans one to a pot, lettuces in tiny clusters, garlic and leeks also in small pinches in modules. When I came out of hospital as I couldn't kneel, dear Mike the gardener planted out the plugs without separating the seedlings. The lettuces I shall pick as cut and come again – we sheltered them with a plastic cloche affair and they are growing really well. The beans are in, planted in double rows and the leeks simply went into the ground in their little clumps. As they grow they will gently separate and although they may not be as fat and white as ones which are inserted into individual holes made with a dibber, it was a jolly sight easier. The garlic is also roaring away. Another routine I had to abandon this year (and not because of illness or injury) was chitting my seed potatoes. Actually, I did chit some but noticed one morning on a visit to the green house that they were disappearing – a mouse or a rat was eating them one by one as if it was a running buffet! There was not enough time between purchasing replacements and chitting them so Mike simply dug a trench and planted the fresh lot straight from their bags into the ground. There is a school of thought (which I have never followed until now) that there is no real need to chit potatoes before planting them. I shall let you know how the crop differs – if at all – when it comes to harvest time.

Here are some photos of the garden taken early this morning. The prunus, apple and crab have never been more floriferous partly due to the fantastic weather with its lack of rain and wind which usually destroys the blossoms before we have time to enjoy them. In the autumn Mike randomly planted the new wild flower meadow with masses of tulips, alliums and other bulbs and you can see from the picture how pretty they will be next spring when the meadow seeds he sowed in September reach their full height. Now all I want is a shepherd's hut where I can sit and think and watch nature pass my by.

An April morning

(18/04/11)

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