Monthly Archives: March 2011

Sowing the Spuds of Love: Congrats to Laura!

Seed potatoes

The random number generator hath spoken, and the winner of the Heritage Seed Potato giveaway is lovely Laura (@shoozographer) who says

Wiggly Wigglers are fab indeed – I’ve bought loads from them, mainly seeds, bokashi composting bran, and flowers for gifts.

“Bokashi composting bran” – now that’s something I’ve never heard of before, though perhaps it will be old hat in a few months time? I recently ordered a “Green Joanna” Compost bin through Wiltshire Council at the bargain price of £24 (shipping included). Food digestion in my garden – seems kinda like a no-brainer for a vegetarian.

Thank you to everyone who participated with such thoughtful comments, including this inventive idea from Simon Beaumont for a potato-based pizza base!

My favourite thing to do with potatoes is make them into pizza bases! Just boil up a good handful and when soft mash, then add enough butter and flour until it all forms together into a ball. At this point add in garlic, herbs or anything you fancy to spice it up a bit. Then roll it out into a buttered baking tray, cover in tomato and/or garlic paste and then add whatever you like as toppings.

Well, that’s certainly going on my to-try list when the spuds arrive. Who knows, maybe by then I’ll have rebuilt my recently imploded clay oven.

Speaking of spuds, my own Pink Firs have been tenderly sown into their destination pot. But I’m still left with way more Pink Firs and Donbar Rovers than I need. Anyone keen for a seed swap? (Ahem, Genevieve?)

Pink Firs in the Pot

How do you plan your garden?

DIY Raised Bed

Today is the last day to enter the Heritage Seed Potato Giveaway, but where to plant all those potatoes? Not to mention everything else?

This whole “garden planning” thing is very new to me. In fact, it hadn’t occurred to me until buying a bunch of seeds and some dirt that I should probably have a plan if I expect anything to ever get done.

My planning is somewhat chaotic. I started with a list of things I wanted to grow and what I planned to grow them in. This all went into a very fancy spreadsheet…

Gardening 2011

(Garden planning spreadsheet)

The spreadsheet helped me get started, and behold! Some seeds are already sprouted!

And they're off

But soon afterwards I was getting a little antsy. Although I had written down WHERE I’d grow everything (pots vs. veg bed), I didn’t really plan how much space would be needed. So yesterday I looked at all my seed packets, wrote down how much space everything needed, then measured out my garden and apportioned the space appropriately:

Garden Planning

A place for everything and everything in its place?

We’ll see if I end up with an overgrown weed pile at the end of the year.

How do you guys tackle this problem? Do you just dive in and plant willy nilly? Or do you go crazy with the graph paper and calculator?

Leave a comment, or go enter to win some potato seeds. The only question then is: roasted, boiled, chipped or mashed?

Chargrilled Cauliflower with Tomato, Dill and Capers

Reminder: Just one more day to take part in my Heritage Seed Potato Giveaway!

Grilled cauliflower salad

Yesterday on the Twitters there was some serious Yotam Ottolenghi worship happening. Sophie (Mostly Eating), Kathryn (Limes & Lycopene) and Helen (Fuss Free Flavours) were talking tofu and Master Chef, where sir Yotam recently made an appearance, further strengthening his position as veggie chef superstar.

I, too, having been digging Ottolenghi’s recipes for some time. I hate to be a total fan-girl, but the man is doing some really amazing stuff with vegetables. His dishes are inventive, flavoursome, satisfying, deeply flavoured… okay, maybe a bit of a faff to prepare at times, but altogether worth it. His food isn’t great because it’s vegetarian; it’s great because it’s simply good, real food that celebrates the ingredients and doesn’t cut corners.

(It’s interesting to note that Ottolenghi himself is NOT a vegetarian. I wonder, does it take an omnivore’s appreciation of food to truly celebrate vegetables?)

Back to planet Earth, I recently made the Chargrilled Cauliflower with Tomato, Dill and Capers from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, which proved another Yotam creation that didn’t let me down. And unlike many recipes in this cookbook, this one didn’t take hours to prepare or any weird or overly expensive ingredients.

After making this (recipe below), I reckon “chargrilled” is my new favourite way to make cauliflower. But if you don’t have a grill pan, consider roasting it instead as Cowgirl Chef does.

Grilled cauliflower salad

Chargrilled cauliflower with tomato, dill and capers

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp capers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 120ml olive oil
  • 1 small cauliflower, divided into florets
  • 1 Tbsp chopped dill
  • 50g baby spinach or rocket leaves
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halves
  • salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Make the dressing by hand or in a food processor or blender: mix toggether the capers, mustard, garlic, vinegar and some salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously or run the machine while adding half the oil in a slow trickle. You should end up with a thick, creamy dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  2. Add the cauliflower florets to a large pan of boiling salted water and simmer for 3 minutes only. Drain through a colander and run under cold tap water to stop the cooking. Leave to dry. Once dry, mix with the remaining olive oil and some salt and pepper.
  3. Place a ridged griddle pan over the highest heat and leave for 5 minutes to get really hot. Grill the cauliflower in batches, making sure they’re not cramped. Turn them as they grill until nicely charred. When done, transfer to a bowl While the cauliflower is still hot, toss with the dressing, followed by the dill, spinach and tomatoes.
  4. Check the seasoning before serving and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature – it’s good all ways.

Walking in Sunshine (With a Hint of Cloud)

River Coln

Further to my previous post about walking without the dog, today I walked again. Same route (Bibury and the River Coln). Different company. Just me and my ever-changing jumble of thoughts. And the odd army of sheep butts.

Army of sheep butts

The days have been warm and sunny here in Wilts, but this morning brought a change in the weather. Cool, a little cloudy, dewy at sunrise. But I like that on a long brisk walk. I didn’t stop to take too many pictures, just snaps at the (gloriously few) blatant signs of life like sheep and daffodils, which I’m surprised isn’t the national flower of England given how prolific it is these days (the daffodil IS, however, the national flower of Wales; the national flower of England is the Rose – damn Tudors!).

Daffodils

All in all, a fine day to be outdoors, so much so that I came home and spent the rest of it in the garden with a wheel barrow and a power drill. But that’s another story.

Until then, won’t you go enter to win some spuds in my Heritage Seed Potato Giveaway?

Giveaway: Heritage Seed Potatoes!!

Seed potatoes

Today I bring you a tuber-themed giveaway, courtesy of the folks at Wiggly Wigglers garden supply.

One of the things I’m most excited about growing this season are potatoes. Earlier in the month I purchased a Wiggly Wigglers Maincrop Taster Pack of “heritage potatoes”, older varieties of potatoes that you don’t normally find in the supermarket. This pack includes:

  • Dunbar Rover – Bred in 1936 by Charles T Spence of Tynefield Farm, Dunbar and is very rare, due to low yields. Rover’s tubers are oval with white skin, snowy white flesh and medium deep eyes.
  • Highland Burgundy – Dates back to at least 1936, when it was used to add appropriate colour to a meal for the Duke of Burgundy in the Savoy. It is mostly burgundy red inside with a definite ring of white flesh just under the skin.
  • Pink Fir Apple – A waxy potato, originally imported in 1850, kept solely by British enthusiasts for decades because of its very fine flavour. The tubers are long, narrow and famously knobbly, often with side growths. The skin is part pink/part white and the flesh is yellow.

My purchase was taking a while to arrive, and when I asked Wiggly about it (on their highly entertaining Twitter feed), they sent me another. Both packs eventually arrived, leaving me with more potatoes than I have room in the garden to grow (or room in my stomach to eat). So I’m passing on the excess to you, hoping to spread the joy of growing potatoes far and wide!

Seed potatoes

If you’re a little hesitant to grow potatoes, let me tell you, it’s super easy. I did it for the first time last year – grew them in a big pot in the garden. So really, anyone with just a little bit of outdoor space can do this. All you need is a big pot or potato grow bag and some soil. These can be planted until late April, so you have plenty of time to get them in.

BFF: Pumpkin and potatoes

Check out the BBC for a step-by-step guide: How to grow your own potatoes.

FYI, Wiggly Wigglers aren’t paying me to do this. But I do want to give them props for being an awesome company with great customer service (especially from whoever’s manning/womanning the Twitter feed). I also really liked their packaging!  This was my first time buying from them and I’ll definitely do so again.

How to enter the giveaway:

To win the potato seeds, all you have to do is leave a comment and I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday, March 30th.

Because these are quite costly to ship, I can only offer the giveaway to UK residents. Sorry compatriots!

Tell me something you love about potatoes, or gardening, or anything really. Got a good potato recipe? A potato horror story? Tips on growing potatoes? I’m all ears (and eyes).

The Veg Garden Begins

Sowing the seeds of veg

In what’s becoming a terribly common trend in my work / life habits, this year’s veg patch has me wondering if I’ve bit off a little more than I can chew.

This afternoon, in my first little exercise in Gardening 2011, I listed everything I wanted to grow, when they needed to be sown, and what I’ve got to grow things in. For a newbie gardener, the list seems a bit long:

Potatoes:

  • Dunbar Rover
  • Highland Burgundy
  • Pink Fir Apple

Peppers:

  • Jalapeno
  • Red Cherry
  • Serrano
  • Red fresno peppers
  • Pepperoncinis

Tomatoes:

  • ‘Latah’ Very Early Red Tomato
  • ‘Gold Medal’ Bicolour Tomato
  • ‘Costuluto Genovese’ Vine Tomato

Herbs:

  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro

Lettuces:

  • Mizuna
  • Rocket
  • Mixed Lettuce

Other Fruit / Veg:

  • French Beans
  • ‘Leaf Beet’ Chard / Perpetual Spinach
  • ‘Paris pickling’ cucumber
  • Radish
  • Melon

Ambitious? Probably. But I can’t seem to stop myself. Earlier in the year I decided to grow potatoes again, plus some more suitably English produce like French beans and perpetual spinach, verses last year’s garden which consisted entirely of Mediterranean-type veggies (tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers).

But once I started shopping for seeds, I just couldn’t stop. I’m a huge fan of The Real Seed Catalogue, whose entries read better than most novels. And then I discovered Wiggly Wigglers, who sells funky “heritage” varieties of potatoes – how could I resist the variety pack?

Seed potatoes

So, whatever, I’m just going to go for it. One step at a time. Today’s step: planning and seed sowing.

Overly ambitious

I created a spreadsheet listing all of the veg I want to grow with the dates when things should be sown and what I plan to sow them in. Click here to view the spreadsheet if you’re so inclined.

I also did a little garden evaluation to see if anything survived from last year. The strawberries are looking a little said, but I hope they’ll perk up over the next few months.

The state of the strawberries

Same for the mint and oregano.

Hangers on

I’m excited about this year’s garden, but overwhelmed by my next task: clean up the garden itself. It’s not a terrible mess – just a lot of weeding, and raking to do. The major thing I’m stumped by is what to do about this:

Clay oven implosion

That is what remains of the clay oven. It imploded a few months ago and I’ve been putting off the task of cleaning it up. I mean, how do you dispose of this sort of thing?

I’m planning to use the bricks to create a raised bed along the far wall, along the gate you see behind the oven. But its the huge pile of clay/sand that I’m not sure what to do with. Any ideas?

Click here to view a spreadsheet of my Gardening 2011 plan

Meals that Inspire

Hazelnut Sponge with Port Poached Figs and Lemon Mascarpone

While mom and I were in Bath getting scary news and buying funny shoes, we took a break for a lovely meal at Demuths vegetarian restaurant. I always love going to Demuths when I’m in Bath, and this was no exception.

Mom had the deli plate to start, a selection of pesto, hummus, and aubergine pate with a nice fresh salad and paper-thin flatbread. Really nice and refreshing.

Demuth's Deli Plate

I was in need of a comforting bowl of soup: leek and potato.

Potato and leek soup

Mom’s main was a surprise. “Aloo gobi”, but sort of deconstructed.

Aloo Gobhi

I went with the Cannellini Bean Bruschetta with roasted carrots on sourdough, also a surprise. Loved this – I can totally see myself trying this at home (a gentle reminder to get back on my sourdough regime).

Cannellini Bean Bruschetta

The true inspiration, however, was the dessert: Hazelnut Sponge with Port Poached Figs and Lemon Marscapone.

Hazelnut Sponge with Port Poached Figs and Lemon Mascarpone

I think it was the figs that sold us, because right after lunch, we went to Waitrose and picked up a pack of figs to poach our own. The result: port poached figs with ginger ice cream:

Port-poached figs with ginger ice cream

You could open a restaurant around this dessert; it was that good.

The poached figs were simple to make – two cups of port, one cup of water, 250g figs. Simmer it all for a good long time, until the liquid reduces to a nice thick syrup. Serve with a drizzle of good balsamic if desired.

The ginger ice cream is a recipe I found in the Times and is one of my favourites.

The port poached figs are kind of a revelation, I could see them working with savoury dishes too, for example, Oven Roasted Port Poached Figs with Cashel Blue Cheese or Poached Figs and Gorgonzola Crostini. Or just a salad with the figs, stilton and some toasted walnuts.

I love meals that inspire.

Weekend Walking

Arlington Row

I took a long walk last Saturday morning around Bibury and the River Coln, one of my favourite walks in the area. The views are spectacular, the route is straightforward, and it’s got just the right amount of hills to keep things interesting without being overly challenging.

This was the first walk I’ve been on in recent memories where I didn’t take the dog. Since adopting Jay, I’ve felt this obligation to take the dog with me whenever I go for a walk, despite Jay’s current inability to walk calming on the leash, come when called, and accomplish other such feats of obedience that are still way beyond his capacity.

But this time, I left the dog at home, and took Tim along instead.

Monica and Tim

I had no idea how much I needed this until I found myself bounding along at a good clip talking a mile a minute about things on my mind – it’s amazing what spills out when I’m not too busy trying to keep the dog under control! I barely took notice of the near-perfect weather and stunning countryside, though I’m sure both contributed in their own way to the immense satisfaction I felt when the walk was over.

River Coln

Walking is one of my favourite things, and I’ve totally let it slide. I thought the dog would be a walking companion, but I’ve got to give up on that idea until he’s trained. In the meantime, I’ll take time out for me, to walk for my own enjoyment.

I’ve also go to know when it’s time to throw in the towel. I’ve decided I’m giving myself until the end of this year with Jay – if by then he’s still completely out of control, then I’ve got to accept that Jay and I just aren’t right for each other. It pains me to think about Jay that way, but it also gives me a bit of drive to really master his training. Hopefully we’ll learn to understand each other so he can come along and enjoy some of these glorious days with me.

Bit of color

Not So Bad News and Funny Shoes

New Shoes

It seemed strange this week to be writing about running on Stu Holliday’s Sport Psychology and Coaching Blog. The post was all about what to eat when you’re running long distances, but the thing is, it’s been YEARS since I’ve run more than 5 miles in a stretch, mainly due ankle and knee injuries I’ve been grappling with since late 2004. So I felt a little funny giving advice about running when I in fact can no longer run due to poor training. It’s just as well Stu asked me to write about what to EAT, not how to train, because I’m way smarter when it comes to food than when it comes to training or recovering from an injury.

Or am I?

The injuries have been a huge mystery for me over the past few years. I’ve been to numerous doctors, physiotherapists, sports injury specialists, and podiatrists. I’ve tried numerous non-invasive therapies, such as massage, stretching and strength training. And just as I feel like my body’s feeling good and I try running again, the old pains come back. I’ve had many MRIs, x-rays, ultrasounds and blood tests, but most doctors remain stumped.

It was only recently that a doctor at a sports injury clinic questioned something in one of my x-rays: my bones looked thin for someone my age. He ordered a follow-up bone density scan which revealed that my bones are just under the “normal” range for a healthy woman of my age. The phrase is “osteopenic” – and when I got the news, I couldn’t have imagined a scarier word.

As much as the news made me choke up with worry and sadness that this body I try so hard to treat like a temple might be crumbling from within, it was also a massive relief to learn something real and definitive that may partially explain why I’ve had trouble recovering from my injuries. More tests are on their way to check for vitamin and hormone deficiencies. And there are things I can do to potentially reverse the situation – get more calcium and vitamin D, do resistance training, and we’ll see what else. I really love that I don’t currently take any prescription medication, and I don’t want to start. But I also don’t want to break my hip when I’m 45.

All of this news was revealed at the Bath Royal Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases a couple of weeks ago while my mom was here on her visit from Chicago (didn’t I say that I’d be writing about highlights from my mom’s trip? I don’t know if this was a “highlight”, but it was certainly a moment).

After the appointment, I went outside to meet up with my mom, who took the opportunity to see a bit of Bath. I had a few minutes before finding her to get over my initial blahs, and comforted myself by thinking about all the good things that have been going on recently in the health and injury department:

  • I’ve been seeing great progress with my current physiotherapist, who has me doing running drills to strengthen my legs. Running to treat a running injury? Well, it’s a different kind of running than I’ve ever done, and far more challenging, but the great news is that I’ve been at it for over a month and I’m still pain free. AND I’m running again, which is such a thrill.
  • I’ve also been doing resistance training at the gym twice a week for… quite a while now. Early this year the gym updated its equipment with lots of “functional training” stuff – kettle bells, medicine balls, that sorta thing – and I’ve been really trying to push myself to get stronger. I’m definitely seeing progress, and I have a hunch it partially explains why I’ve been pain free for so long.
  • I’m young, and there’s plenty of time to undo the damage.
  • If the test results do show a calcium deficiency, this could mean a lot more wonderful things in my diet like milky tea, wonderful English cheeses, Greek yogurt and maybe even the odd scoop of ice cream.

When I found my mom I explained the situation and all of the strikes and gutters around it. As we walked and talked, we happened by a running shop that I’d been meaning to go into because they sold Nike Frees and Vibram Five Fingers, two shoes recently popularized by the whole “barefoot running craze” a craze backed by some strong science, might I add). I wrote about Vibram Five Fingers in July 2009 when Tim got a pair in Austin. Since then, he’s run his way through a few pairs of Five Fingers, and has said that he hasn’t the ankle pains he was getting running in regular shoes.

Five Fingers at Julio's

So I asked mom if she’d mind popping in so I could compare the two and find out my sizes.

We had a long talk with the very nice sales lad about the merits of these shoes – an educational experience for mom. I explained that I wanted to use the shoes for resistance training, no so much running, because they’d force me to use more muscles to balance myself when doing any exercise that has me on my feet (to put it succinctly). In this case, the Five Fingers were the ultimate choice, because the Nikes, though flat, still hold the toes together and wouldn’t give me the best chance for muscle development. At the same time, the Nikes are admittedly very stylish – but really, how stylish can you possibly be with a big Nike swoosh on the side of your foot? This is, after all, about function, not fashion.

So given the day, and my utter crapulence with making purchase decisions, my mom sprung for a pair of Five Fingers to help bring me into my new stage of recovery. I’ve worn them five times to the gym so far. The first two trips left me VERY sore. That kind of deep muscle soreness that comes from using muscles you didn’t know you had.

But the last three workouts have been remarkably easier. Moreover, the shoes are surprisingly comfortable – I thought I’d hate having stuff between my toes but I don’t mind it at all.

I’ll write a proper review of the FiveFingers in a few weeks after I’ve spent a bit more time in them. I know they’re just a pair of shoes, but they make me excited to get my body and bones in shape for life. And after so many disheartening visits to the doctors, I feel like it’s time for some positivity. There have been times when I’ve felt resigned to never running again. But lately, I feel promise. Thanks, mom.

Jay and focus point both confused by the new shoes

Fueling up for longs runs (veggie style)

What a Great Way to Run | Flickr  Photo Sharing

Hi folks, today I’m guest posting on my friend Stuart Holliday’s Sport Psychology and Coaching Blog. Stu is a sport psychologist in training and UKA coach and I’m honoured that he asked me to write for him.

The topic of my post: eating for long-distance running, an appropriate topic with the London and Paris marathons coming up in just over a month. But you will find no bagels or energy bars here – food isn’t just fuel, it’s for enjoyment and pleasure, too. My suggestions focus on real, whole foods, that are delicious to eat and just so happen to be rich in complex carbohydrates, the perfect fuel for long-distance running!

Now, without further adio, please head over to Stu’s and read:

Fueling up for long runs & endurance activity