counting blessings

I left my bubble this weekend, which was terrifying and necessary

I went to Tuscany to visit some very dear friends, I ate some amazing food

walked miles, talked the hind legs off several donkeys, hugged friends and strangers, basked in the sun, admired the amazing views

we took part in an online “how to make gnocchi” course

which was bloody funny and utterly disastrous, but Bella pulled it out the bag at the end and turned the whole thing into a delicious omelette (minus the snotty gnocchi)

whilst sitting on top of a mountain with a group of strangers, amongst the stones and earth, listening to an explanation of the how’s and why’s of grafting grapes and the necessity to grow bio-dynamically and the vision one man has for the future of wine

I realised that the dreams we have for our own futures are not always logical or even sensible but what is clear is if we are honest with ourselves we can do the most extraordinary things…….this is something that I most admired about Rick and his crazy idea’s

seemingly coming out of nowhere and to anyone else completely impossible and bonkers, but with the right amount of determination, anything is possible, because when we focus and follow our hearts, there is an energy that becomes available to us that is not something we can control, it comes from elsewhere….

After many conversations about death and life and the after life and what happens to us when we leave, I do know that all of us are connected to everything, we are everywhere and the longer we disconnect ourselves from each other and nature the worse it will become

so, get out there, get your hands dirty, do something that terrifies you, hug a stranger, eat something you have never eaten before, have a dream that is beyond you’re wildest fantasy, do something for someone with no strings attached, give stuff away, be grateful for everything you have and above all, just try to be nice to each other because you just never know what is going to happen and how much you might wish you had done things differently……….

I’ve got my zest(er) back

I’m in Italy, in a tiny house with a tiny garden, in the middle of a tiny village, surrounded by stunning countryside, friendly people and delicisousness in the bushes and in the shops (when we are allowed to go to them)!!!

I’ve started replacing all the wonderful things I had, one thing that I was very upset about was the loss of my microplane, I know it’s easy to replace, but it wasn’t just about replacing things and filling my life up again

I had been fundamentally changed by the fire, so I didn’t really want to cook much anymore, I did kind of get into it last autumn, when we arrived in Italy and spent days foraging and making sloe cheese, quince everything and figgy stuff

which I loved, but then I lost the desire again with the breakdown of my marriage and the subsequent, sudden death of my husband…….

I’ve been in Italy since lockdown, organising what has fondly become known as “Italy death bollox” and whilst I was appreciating being here, in a remote and beautiful country, I still had no desire to cook much. let alone forage………

It’s been a long time since I lived anywhere where there were any hedgerows, and it’s a wonderful thing, there’s so much diversity here, you don’t even have to look very hard, you just have to have the right eyes in, a bit like mushroom hunting, once you tune into your environment a multitude of abundance reveals itself…..

What’s nice about foraging is the chance to just stop and admire what is growing out there, the countryside is rife with life, identifying it and making it into something is therapeutic not to mention practical, what’s even better is that when you crack open a jar of something, from whatever season it came from, you are instantly reminded of that time, the picking of it, the light, the sounds, the winding down of the days, the changing of the seasons, this is one of the most evocative things about growing, preserving and making, it’s a reminder that the simple things are the best, it’s the time that you were most calm and happy and grateful, to just be with nature and give thanks by turning her gifts into a culinary delight, elderflower cordial heralds the beginning of a new season for me, a season of abundance, after the quiet time of winter in the hedgerows, it’s a new start, a fresh start with a fresh drink to whet the appetite and forge ahead with a new strength and vigour and determination……..here we go again!!!

springtime

apparently we’ve had the coldest March for 31 years and I suspect we will have had the wettest April for ages too, by the time it’s over.

riverWe’ve had a lot of rain this year, quite a lot of flooding and landslides but despite the dreadful weather, the wild flowers are amazing and my garden has never looked so good at this time of year.

arti

I sowed some peas at the same time as the broad beans, about October time and although I have never done this before, they seemed to have survived the winter and are now producing actual peas, the broad beans have masses of flower too but are looking a bit beaten down by the endless rain and then winds, but they are still alive and podding up nicely, maybe by the end of the week we’ll have some with our favourite dish….

peasbroad beans

the purple sprouting broccoli has been the plant that just keeps giving, so much that I am giving it away, it took ages to do anything, had to be staked, has got so tall but now they’ve got going, there’s no stopping it

broc

the other thing I’d never done before was to grow some winter lettuce, this too has been prolific, I kept it fleeced over for the very cold months, it’s done really well and has supplied us all winter

salad as has the coriander

coriander

which I have been amazed at as have my friends, who have all benefitted.

The asparagus, as I could have predicted has not done so well, I think I disturbed it a bit last year, so I’ve only got myself to blame, but I’m grateful for the small amounts we have had, I shall be moving the bed this year and starting some new ones, they are 7 years old after all.

Potato obsessed husband has planted almost an entire field of the things

potatoes

Aside from all the foody bits, the flowers are very blue and some are yellow and orange, they’ve been out all winter….weird

iris

hyacinthborageflowers

Now, we would like it to stop raining, please, just for a bit and only at night, thank you

cherries

black cherries

it’s been a fantastic year for cherries here, the big tree next to the house doesn’t seem to have suffered for having half it’s roots severed by the foundations going in, some if it is a bit tricky to pick some we can pick from a couple of the windows (very romantic), friends have been to help and we’ve made cherry and cardamom ice-cream

ice cream

pie fillings for the freezer and endless tarts

pie

cherry juice

cherry juice

and am now in the process (10 days) of making glacé cherries, i would have dried some but don’t have the space or intact racks and i would have made jam but have noticed that the jam in my stores is not getting eaten………

garden fits and other failures

lets talk about crop failures, because i wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s all marvellous, this self-sufficiency lark. It’s not, it’s bloody hard work, the weather is relentless at both ends of the spectrum, too much water when you don’t need it, none, when you do and currently no way of harvesting it without pulling the house builder off of house building duties.

I have created shade in the garden and I mulch where I can with what little I have, but now there is too much shade (ironic!!)shade
so my second sewings of parsnips and carrots look a little bit miserable, the first sewings are ok

carrots

parsnips

we’ve had some thinnings from the first sewn carrots and what’s left will probably last about another month

The peas were a complete failure, I sewed three varieties this year, none of which flowered, they got a kind of powdery mildew and I had a fit and ripped them all up!!

The Uchiri Kuri pumpkins are tiny, something ate the flowers, the ones that survived were already climbing up some beans poles, but whatever ate the pumpkin flowers didn’t eat the butternut squash flowers, of which I have about 20

squash

The globe artichokes never got fat enough to eat so we’ve just left them to seed and look nice, the bees love them

artichoke

One courgette plant survived and has given us enough, there’s always too many anyway, so am relieved there aren’t anymore

courgette

Out of 7 cucumber plants I’ve had about 7 cucumbers, not a great return i don’t think

cucumber

I have done three sewings of cut and come again salad leaves, all self collected from last year and mostly rocket, it’s done well with the shade, so at least something likes itsalad
I’ve got 4 varieties of tomatoes, san marzano, which is doing very badly and has blossom end rot, red alert, a new variety to me which is doing very well, cherry tomatoes and money maker both of which are slow to produce and certainly not ripening yet

toms

the onions were actually great, despite my initial disappointment, we’ve ended up with about 25 kilos of mixed red and white, but still not enough for a whole year

onions3and the garlic not too bad either
onions4
the broad beans were a disaster, mice ate the seed, three times, I gave up, I even soaked some seed in paraffin and they ate that too!! the beetroot was rubbish and I had a fit with that too and threw it all away, yes, I’ve had a lot of fits in the garden this year!!!!

The stanley plum, planted in memory of our first dear dog is having it’s second year of fruiting, they are such a beautiful colour
plums

we also have our first apples, the apple trees were planted 5 years ago and all bar one have fruited for the first time this year, finally

apples

I know I’m not doing too much wrong,  I am considering changing the garden again, as we both mature together, I can see that I have been trying to create a garden that I would have liked in the UK and it just isn’t working here, so back to the drawing board and several more fits no doubt and eventually I’ll either die or the garden will!!

the fruit aisle

there is nothing quite like wandering down the fruit aisle and tasting everything,

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only my fruit aisle’s are not like supermarket aisle’s there’s a full on interaction from the very beginning until the very end. When you you are in a position to not only gobble your way up and down for free but give surplus away to passing strangers, that for me is the point of it all.

berries

There is no money exchange only love and no ridiculous plane journeys for washing, packaging and god know’s what else, it’s straight from the plant either into the mouth or home for inventive cooking,


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hand

around the garden in May

garlic head
some of you may remember my post about garlic. I’d collected seed three years ago and every year since have been growing garlic from that seed, it started tiny, got a little bigger and this year I actually have some useable sizes, I graded them into large, medium and small,

large garlic

the large I will use as next years seed, the medium I will use in the kitchen and the tiny I will either give away for someone else to start off with or keep for emergencies…..

the flowers have been fabulous, the house is full of them and i’ve had enough to give away to people in the village, such a nice feeling.

moth1

The rhubarb has been better than most years, I’ve planted a lot of comfrey around one patch and they seem to get on well together.

rhubarb

When we first bought our farm there was no shade in the valley at all, we planted a lot of false acacia and it has done so well, so well, infact that we are going to have to cut some of it down, it is now creating too much shade and plants like the strawberries are now suffering, but despite their lack of sun, i am still harvesting about 1/2 kilo everyday……

strawberries

The broad beans did well, despite the efforts of the mice to eat all the seed, we harvested about 6 kilos, some we just ate fresh and the rest is frozen. I didn’t have enough to keep any seed for next year, but given that the mice ate most of it, I’m not so bothered about buying it, it’s so cheap to buy.

The carrots are doing well, the parsnips not so well, I will sow one more bed of both and hope for better things. My little rows of potatoes are doing well and are just coming in to flower,  Maris Peer, Charlotte and King Edward

potatoes

The onions are pathetic and I am right on the verge of giving up with them, they take up a lot of room, look messy and never produce well,

onions

I don’t know what I am doing wrong, I have never managed to get decent onions out of the ground here. I’ve always planted from sets, so if I carry on I will just do what most of the portuguese do and plant from plugs much later on, again so cheap at the market.

The salad has been great, especially the rocket, will sow one more bed in the semi-shade and see if I’m not too late

rocket

The peas and beans are doing well, various kinds of all, mostly self collected seed, Feltham First, Hurst Greenshaft and an unidentified giant pea from some friends…

peas

the beans in the garden are mostly cherokee trail of tears and some purple french thing and up in the potato field are some borlotti, am hoping that the shade won’t hinder their progress too much.

beans

Uchiki Kuri and the Butternut’s are doing well, and the courgette’s are flowering

courgette

the asparagus is being left now to replenish itself, but the base makes for a good place to plant herbs and more lettuce etc.

asparagus

In between all of this I’ve been harvesting the cherries, elderflowers for cordial, strimming various bit, tying in the naughty top fruit vines

loganberries

and trying to get rid of my farmers tan……….