Thursday, 31 October 2013

Broomsticks At The Ready!

Wouldn't it be great for just one day a year, to be able to make like a witch (or Harry Potter) and jump on a broomstick and fly around in the sky?

We all know that 31st October is Halloween, but it is also the start of the Gaelic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.  How many of those who, dressing up for Halloween and going "Trick or Treating", realise they are taking part in an ancient pagan tradition of mumming and guising

Whatever you do to celebrate the 31st October, whatever your faith, enjoy!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Stormy Weather

There's a serious storm hurtling towards England and Wales at the moment and due to hit us this evening, and is going to be particularly bad for those of us on the south coast.  Its been pretty windy here all week-end but apparently that's nothing compared to what is on the way.

We took a walk along the beach this afternoon and the sea was looking pretty angry, like a giant out of control washing machine.

Our local council have cancelled the refuse collection for tomorrow and local travel services have also been cancelled already.  We've prepared as much as we can, now we just have to sit tight and wait and hope the wind and rain pass through without too much damage.

Update: the storm passed through in the night without too much damage locally so we are counting our blessings.  Our windows though are covered with a layer of sea salt, it's like having frosted glass - we need some clean rain now to wash the windows down!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Chillies Worth Waiting For

The chilli plants are better than ever this year, but they are also later than ever in producing their fruit - so what did we do different this year?

Well, the seeds were planted around Easter time, as per usual, and the plants started to grow well.  By July, they had grown plenty of buds and little flowers and were looking very promising, but then they had to be moved from their usual sunny windowsill to a table in the lounge so that the cat-sitter could water them whilst we went away for a week. They did not like this at all ....  the watering kept the plants alive but the lack of sunshine caused all of their flowering buds to drop off.

Once returned to their sunny windowsill, and a boosting drink of tomato feed, they started to regenerate but this time, with a vengeance.  It seemed the shock of a week's "mis-treatment" in the summer has made the plants more determined than ever to survive - their survival instinct to produce plenty of seeds within the chilli pods.  

We only have room for 2 plants, but I have already counted over 70 chillies on them and new buds are continuing to develop all of the time.  The supermarkets are charging almost £1 for a small bag of chillies so its satisfying to know that as well as looking good on the windowsill, these plants are saving us money on our grocery shopping too!  I'm determined to try and keep these little beauties going as long as I can throughout the winter!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Red and Black Jewellery

I really should be out there in the garden, clearing out as much of the dead fruit and veggie planting as I can and clearing a pathway so that the A-team can come in for their annual chain-sawing and drastic chopping down of the hedges and overgrown trees.  But today its raining and doesn't look like stopping in the near future.

But its always good to have a plan B and then you never feel disappointed. My plan B today is to make more jewellery.  I'm currently loving working with snowflake obsidian (not so much a gemstone, but a volcanic glass). It works really well when mixed with clear and red glass and silver metals.  

The colour combinations will not only work well to dress up an outfit in the festive season, but the pairing of black, red and silver has a particular gothic feel about it (darkness, moonlight, vampires and blood!) and sets the mood for October and November too!

Jewellery available for purchase at: my Cocopopia shop

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Raspberry Gin

I've been reading recently that there are quite a few micro-distilleries popping up around the country producing gin.  As with whisky distilleries in Scotland, the recipes are usually secret as each distillery likes to include its own special ingredients to create a unique and distinctive flavour, often featuring local botanicals.  The newly opened Anno Distillers in Kent is very proud of its locally grown ingredients (such as Lavender, Camomile and the coastal plant Samphire) and is not shy about mentioning these on its website.  They've already had great reviews, so this is a gin to look out for.

Meanwhile, back at Cocopopia Towers, I've decided to create a gin of my own, using the surplus autumn fruiting raspberries we have so much of.  I've never made any before, but there are lots of recipes and advice on the internet.  

I'm not sure if I've started mine too late for it to be ready for Christmas, but I'll taste it and see, once we get to Christmas.  If not, it'll be something to look forward to in January!

Here are links to a couple of blogs which I found helpful (and I particularly like The Cottage Smallholder's suggestion that once the gin has been drunk, you can pour sherry over the fruit and start all over again - that sounds like it'll be pretty good!)

Anyway - worth looking at if you want to give it a try are:-

It's Not F**cking Rocket Science

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Butternut Squash Challenge

This year, for the first time, I grew some butternut squash.  I didn't know if they were going to be a success or not as the plant wasn't in the ground, but in a container by the back door.  I'd intended to transplant it into the veggie patch once it got too big for the pot but in the end I decided to leave it where it was as it seemed to be perfectly happy in the pot and I didn't want to tempt fate by disturbing it.  

The plant provided lots of leafy, green decorative foliage (with yellow flowers to attract the bees) throughout the summer and, as the leaves have died back over the past month, 4 delightful butternut squashes have been revealed.

I have set myself a challenge of using each one in a different recipe.  The first recipe is a spicy soup, which I sort of made up as I went along, so it was a bit of a gamble, but I can honestly say it did not disappoint.  

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Here's my recipe if you want to give it a go:-

Serves 4 - 6 (depending on portion size)

  • 1 small to medium sized butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • roughly the same volume of potatoes, scrubbed and chopped (I always scrub the skins and leave them on as that's where the goodness and the flavour is)
  • 1 large spring onion / scallion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped (I use a garlic press)
  • knob of butter
  • 1 small - medium sized chilli pepper (I used one from my own chilli plant)
  • 2 large chestnut mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 veggie stock cube - made into stock with 1 and a half pints of water
  • 1 x 400ml can of coconut milk
  • cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped (or half a teaspoon of dried ginger)
  •  1 level teaspoon of turmeric
  •  quarter teaspoon of Thai spice mix

1.  Melt the butter in a large pan and gently cook the spring onion, garlic, chilli and ginger for about 5 minutes until softened.

2.  Add the mushrooms, and other spices and cook for 1 minute.

3.  Add the veggie stock, potatoes, squash and coconut milk and bring to the boil.

4.  Cover and simmer gently for about 15 - 20 minutes, until the potatoes/squash are soft

5.  Remove from heat and use a blender to blend the ingredients together into an even consistency.

6.  Serve with fresh crusty bread and enjoy!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Wheels and Windmills

Today was the perfect day for an autumn bike ride as the weather was dry and sunny.  We set off early to avoid the drivers heading out for pub lunches but came across plenty of other fellow cyclists (most of them heading in the opposite direction to ourselves, for some reason).

The highlight of the ride though was cycling past Jonathan Creek's windmill (well, Shipley Windmill in West Sussex, which was used in the filming of the series as this was Jonathan's home).

At first it was cheekily peeping out above some trees in the distance ...

And then we got closer

I think windmills are lovely, and this one is no exception.  But we were a little disappointed to see that it wasn't white anymore and in need of a bit of a clean.

Even so, its a great looking windmill

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Wonders of Rosemary

Out of all the herbs you could grow, rosemary is one of the easiest and most versatile.  You don't even have to start it from seed - just buy a potted plant version from the herb section of the supermarket, look after it well in your garden and pot it up as it gets bigger until it gets strong and sturdy and you can then plant it out into your garden where the roots won't get too soggy and it won't be too exposed to heavy frosts.  It is drought tolerant and gets more woody as it grows, which makes it quite a tough plant.  

We've had rosemary growing in our garden for several years now and, being an evergreen, its of use to us all year round it.  The potent oil from this plant has been used for centuries due to its health giving properties.

Its reputed ability to ease indigestion may be why it makes a good partner to fatty meats, but as a week-end treat when the weather is cold, I put a couple of sprigs onto a tray of chunky chopped vegetables, drizzled with olive oil to roast in the oven - the smell that fills the house is wonderful.

Historically, it is a symbol of remembrance, and Nigella Lawson has an interesting recipe here for a Rosemary Remembrance Cake


It also has antibacterial properties and may help ease breathing, so a rosemary-infused steam inhalation is good for winter coughs and colds. It is also supposed to be good for soothing aches and pains so running a hot tap over fresh sprigs makes a great reviving bath and, again, the steam will help disperse the uplifting smell around the house.

I run my hands along the twigs to release the little leaves and sprinkle them in the chicken house - on their nest and roosting area, to take advantage of the insect repelling properties.  For the house, candles made with rosemary oil will help keep the insects at bay in the summer.

From a beauty point of view, rosemary is thought to help stimulate hair growth and, if you can bear it, you should try running a cold infusion through your hair and massaging into your scalp after shampooing.  This also works well as a final hair rinse and will add extra body and shine.  It can also be applied dry to the hair by adding a few drops onto a hairbrush (this should also help repel head lice).

Due to its stimulating effects, it is also said to be a good memory booster and Greek students would braid rosemary into their hair to help them when taking exams.  I tried the Rosemary Wine memory booster last winter (from my James Wong Grow Your Own Drugs book) which involved bruising a few sprigs of rosemary and placing them in a bottle of good quality red wine, leaving to infuse by re-corking and shaking daily for 2 weeks. After that, you should drink a small wine glass daily after dinner.  Well, it tasted a little unusual at first but I soon found I acquired the taste for it.  I didn't keep up with it though, so this winter I'm going to give it another go and see if I can set it to work on my memory cells ...  cheers!