weekend breakfast

The cooler, dewy mornings are tempting me into weekend baking. There’s something very comforting about pottering about in pjs, cooking something simple and wholesome  while a coffee pot warms on the woodburner.

Also, my daughter isn’t a big fan of breakfast. It’s often a real effort to ensure she has something healthy to give her enough energy to start the day. So rather than resorting to coco pops, I thought getting her involved and experimenting with new recipes was worth a try.

I made some oat cakes first of all, with oats and wheatgerm as ingredients yet ‘cake’ in the name, they proved healthy enough for my liking and, with a good dollop of damson jam, irresistible to Ruby.

This morning we baked banana and date bread together. While it cooked, Ruby and I nipped into the garden, still in our nighties, to pick raspberries. Back in the kitchen, I gave her little bowls of oats, greek yoghurt and honey to mix us all raspberry breakfast pots. The ‘pick n mix’ novelty worked a treat.

We have banana and date bread left to toast tomorrow and maybe it’ll all go downhill after that but I loved the excuse to wander around the garden in our nighties, coming back inside to the warm smells of baking.

Recipe Date and Banana Loaf

160g Chopped dates (I have substituted these for sticky prunes too, and result was delicious)

2 bananas, mashed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

170g unrefined cane sugar or caster sugar

1 egg

250g self-raising flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/Gas4). Grease and line a 10 x 20cm loaf tin with baking paper.

Put the dates, banana, butter, bicarbonate of soda and sugar in a bowl. Pour in 250ml boiling water, stir to dissolve sugar. then leave to soak for a few minutes. Stir the egg through, then fold in the flour and baking powder.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. This is great still slightly warm, just in thick slices. You can butter if you like or, if there’s any left, toast it the next day.



beeswax and honey

Had a lovely interlude in the middle of my working day yesterday. We’d been talking about having a beehive and a friend’s beekeeping Dad called to see if I wanted to have a look at his bees. I was soon down the hill and in a beekeeping suit, loving the chance to get out in the sunshine. Seeing the bees was a bonus!

Standing on the edge of a stubbly wheatfield, listening to a nearby buzzard as we checked the bees was much better than sitting at a computer. We puffed smoke to warn the bees of our arrival, then opened up each of the 5 hives, feeding them and generally checking if they were fine.

The bees were as relaxed in the sunshine as us and one successful forager was doing a ‘waggle dance’ – a figure of eight dance to let the others know about the nectar he’d brought back.

Came away full of enthusiasm about the thought of producing our own honey. It varies dramatically apparently from year to year, depending on the weather conditions in winter, the crops around etc. The year when there was a field of borage next to the hives was particularly good. Another reason to let borage spread – which means more pretty blue-flowered ice-cubes for my gin and tonics!

I also came away with a lovely candle made from the beeswax. Ruby was very pleased with its beehive shape and can’t wait for a cosy evening to light it. In the meantime I have to resist the urge to do a waggle dance when we come back from blackberrying.


Just Vegetating: A Memoir by Joy Larkcom

When Joy Larkcom began writing about gardening in the 1970s, the traditional way was still to grow a limited amount of brassicas, potatoes and root veg, all in regimented rows.

With both an insatiable curiosity and an obsession with vegetables, Joy drew inspiration instead from European peasant gardeners with their wonderful ortos, allotments and gardens. Always thorough in her research, she set off in a caravan across Europe with her family, cycling off to talk to people about their veg growing.

Joy Larkcom

As someone who struggles with the concept of a ‘vegetable patch’ (I’m too obsessed by food to have an area that doesn’t contain something edible, so the whole garden is a patchwork of vegetables and flowers) Joy’s ideas about growing edible plants in a more creative way are right up my garden path. And her style, which mixes down to earth common sense with wit, makes her writing my ideal evening-by-the-woodburner reading. While daydreaming about next years’ planting (and tasty harvests!) I find reading about using wild plants in Italy or “slugduggery” on a Suffolk market garden just the thing.

In ‘Just Vegetating’ Joy brings together articles from four decades of writing about vegetable gardening, covering subjects ranging from her 1970s ‘Grand Vegetable Tour’ to Europe, her travels to Japan and China in search of unusual Asian vegetables that would suit our British climate (adding to her favourite hardy cut and come again salad crops) to “two-timing” potatoes by sowing quick growing rocket or cress on top of them when first planted.

I was surprised to discover how much of the things we take for granted these days in vegetable growing (planting cut and come again salad leaves, growing European favourites such as rocket, purslane, endives and chicories, intersowing) were introduced to us by Joy Larkcom. But I also picked up lots of new ideas: I’ll be rubbing a lovage leaf around a bowl of salad to add a celery flavour now and chopping lemon balm finely to add a lemon taste to salads.

And I loved her scholarly findings that, “Vegetables and flowers were grown together indiscriminately in these functional medieval gardens. Even the flowers were grown for practical purposes: medicinal, culinary or for distilling.” Nice to know there have been crazy planters like me for years!

Just Vegetating  A Memoir by Joy Larkcom, published 2012 by Frances Lincoln.

damsons and woodsmoke

Second week of term, the temperature’s dropped and the display in our local chemist’s window is nit combs and shampoo. Was starting to feel a little negative about the end of summer.

Yet we took bikes outside after school and I noticed the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Then as Ruby biked along the track, we saw damsons dropping on the floor. I grabbed a bowl and she helped me pick heaps of the dusty purple fruit. Thoughts of damson gin, damson ice-cream and damson jam were running through my head.

Next to the hedgerow with the damsons is our woodshed. Thanks to the generosity of a local farmer with a fallen tree, we have heaps of wood. My thoughts turned to evenings warmed by the woodburner. And there’s something about stacks of wood that’s not only lovely to look at but

fills me with a cosy feeling.

Inside, I made a runny damson jam. Half the weight of sugar to fruit and just simmer for 5 minutes. Fiddly getting the stones out (obviously messy for me too!) but how lovely having several jars of a great topping for vanilla ice-cream, toast and drop scones. It doesn’t last as long as traditional jam but feels slight;y more virtuous and is fine in the fridge for three months.

Now I’m relishing the golden September days and cosy woodburner evenings.

Giffords Circus

Giffords Circus

It’s hard when the summer holidays end.  Especially as the last days included some lovely sunny day mooching around outside with Ruby.  Doesn’t make returning to a routine too tempting. In fact, remininded of the urge to run away with the circus we all had last week.

Well, after watching the magical treat of Giffords Circus, how could you not get caught up in the fabulous atmosphere?  Tweedie the clown was as funny as ever, the Ethiopian jugglers elegant and the dogs and geese were reassuringly eccentric. I love the look of it, so stylishly handmade, with the hand painted tent lining to the vintage tent, wonderful costumes and tea in Emma Bridgwater mugs in the interval. Wondrous is the word for it.

What other circus would urge us in their programme to plant wildflowers everywhere. Or proclaim that they were, “Seeking the new, strange, original and scandalous…”

If you were going to run away with a circus, this would be the one to do it with.  Having trouble working out our acts though. Making breadsticks with children while simultaneously cooking quiche and making a cake may be challenging but it creates the sort of mess most people would rather hide from than watch. And we’re not doing too well in training Mog and Tiger. Even using copious amounts of food, we couldn’t even ensure Mog stayed in the utility room when we left for holiday. We were finally about to leave the drive when a miaow alerted us to the fact that Mog was in the car.

So I’d better set the alarm for the morning.