Monday, 23 April 2018


All my regular readers know that I am very fond of food, and of cooking! Inspired by our recent trip to Seville, I made an array of tapas-style dishes for our dinner on Saturday. They turned out well, so I have decided to show them off...

This is where the evening begins - aperitifs, accompanied by a selection of olives. My drink is a fino sherry, Jane's is a Whisky Mac (whisky with Green Ginger wine).

The tapas concept lends itself to the use of a multitude of small plates, so I took the opportunity to use some of our extensive collection of little dishes from around the world for this meal. In the photo above you see two which we bought last year in Tavira, Portugal. [Tavira is geographically quite close to Seville...]

The first "tapa" I dished-up is also inspired by our holiday in Portugal, though I'm sure it is ubiquitous in the Mediterranean area - a sort of bruschetta, with a piece of sourdough toast topped with chopped tomato and avocado, sprinkled with dried Oregano and drizzled with olive oil and a splash of sweet/sharp pomegranate molasses. Jane wasn't keen to have the pomegranate molasses, so I used Sweet Freedom agave syrup to add the sweetness on hers.

Well, that was a nice easy one to start with; now for something more complex. These are my (experimental) version of "Croquetas" (croquettes).

Everywhere we ate in Seville served croquetas! The authentic version is made with a stiff béchamel, but mine are potato-based. I boiled and mashed some potatoes, added some grated Parmesan cheese and left them in the fridge to firm up. Later on I incorporated Spring Onion, fresh Thyme and some reconstituted dried Winter Chanterelle mushrooms (foraged by me last Autumn). I formed the mix into a number of small oblong (croquette?) shapes and put them back in the fridge to chill. Just before cooking I coated them in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then shallow fried them in sunflower oil, turning several times to achieve an even colour. I served them with a Sweet Chilli dipping sauce - probably very un-Spanish, but very yummy all the same.

Time for some meat now. This dish is slow-cooked Lamb, served with flatbreads (home-made of course).

After browning all over in a searing-hot pan, the Lamb is cooked for about 3 hours in a covered Pyrex casserole, at low temperature, submerged in olive oil along with some sprigs of fresh Rosemary and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic. It comes out really falling-apart tender - and tasty too.

Back to the vegetables again now. The next course was a Carrot Hummus with miniature cucumbers and more flatbreads.

The Carrot Hummus is very easy to make. You put some peeled carrots in a roasting-pan, along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and loads of fragrant spices (I used seeds of Fennel, Caraway, Cumin and Coriander), and roast them for about 45 minutes until tender. Then you zuzz them up in a food-processor, adding a bit more oil if necessary to achieve the desired texture. A beautifully tasty alternative to the usual chickpea version.

My fifth and final offering was actually my personal favourite. It is "Lomo de Cerdo" (Loin of Pork).

It doesn't look very ambitious, but I assure you it was fantastic! The meat is some slices of pork tenderloin, cut fairly thin. It was marinated in Oregano-flavoured olive oil (left over from a jar of olives!), with an added dash of Piri-Piri (hot chilli) condiment - again from Portugal, not Spain! I flash-fried it in a very hot dry pan. In retrospect, I think I'll nab this one as a recipe for some other time, but do it in larger scale - perhaps served with some more croquetas, which were Jane's favourite.

This was a really fun meal to cook, and very different to the typical British "meat and three veg" type of meal. The tapas concept is very flexible: you can have as much or as little as you want, and you can have loads of different things all in one meal without having to limit your options!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

First sowings at Courtmoor

Until this week, all the seed-sowing I have done has been at my own house / garden. Now I have finally got some seeds in at the Courtmoor Avenue plot. I have sowed a row each of Beetroot "Boltardy" and Parsnip "Thrupp", the latter a gift from a friend who is a member of the Stroud Community Seed Group. The cultivated part of the plot is gradually "outnumbering" the uncultivated bit!

Because the plot is very open and vulnerable to damage by cats, foxes etc, I devised a novel way of delineating the seed-beds and giving them a little bit of protection. I laid down some bits of wood and metal piping which I found at the end of the garden, and pegged them in place, like this:

The pegs are just short lengths of stick, cut from the apple-tree prunings.

This arrangement is not intended to be a long-term one, and once the seedlings are up and established, I'll remove the wood and metal. I know it doesn't offer much protection, but hopefully the cats will prefer the more open ground elsewhere on the plot.

On this visit I also planted some more of the Shallots. So far 28 of the 45 have sprouted, well over my self-imposed target of 15.

The first half-dozen Shallots, which I planted 10 days ago, look well-established now and growing strongly.

The Broad Beans haven't grown very enthusiastically yet. In fact a few of them look very pale, with one or two of their lower leaves going yellow. This sounds disturbingly like a nutrient deficiency in the soil, but maybe I'm worrying too much. It might just be that they have been pining for some warmth and sunshine (some of which finally arrived this week).

The first few potato shoots are poking up through the soil now. These are the First Early variety "Foremost".

I'm hoping that we have had our last frost of the year now, and that I won't have to dash up to the plot one evening to cover over these tender shoots. Our weather is all over the place these days, and you never know what to expect! This week we have had daytime temperatures in the mid 20s, and night-time ones in double figures a couple of times too.

The Raspberry plants at the top of the plot are covered in delicate green new leaves too. I evidently did their pruning / weeding just in time. It's depressing to see that despite my efforts, there are still plenty of weeds coming up in amongst the canes.

A month or so ago, when the plot was completely bare, it seemed huge, but now as I begin to populate it I'm beginning to think I may not have room for all the things I want to grow! Must remember to leave room for the Winter veg as well as the Summer ones...

Thursday, 19 April 2018

A chemical attack?

[A very topical subject, this...!]

One of the "Foremost" potato plants I am growing seems to have been the victim of a chemical poisoning. Not Novichok this time, but probably Clopyralid weedkiller.

As most readers will know, some of the potatoes I am growing at home in large plastic tubs are ones that I rescued from my new plot at Courtmoor Avenue last Autumn. I think it's possible that this one had been contaminated with weedkiller before I brought it home, because all the others (and the seed tubers I bought at the Potato Day I attended in January) seem to be OK. If the weedkiller were the soil / compost I'm using, I believe they would all have been affected. Look at these two side-by-side. One of the plants seems fine, but the other displays the "fern-like" and "spoon-shaped" foliage so characteristic of this type of chemical damage.

This year all my container-grown potatoes are in a mix of home-made compost and soil taken from a decommissioned raised bed.  Apart from the one seen above, they all look OK so far.

Long-time readers of my blog will possibly remember that a few years ago (2014) my garden suffered severely from weedkiller contamination in commercial compost, but I don't think any of that is still with me. I made strenuous efforts to avoid any of the affected material getting into my compost bins, and in any case I empty them completely at least once a year.

If you grow vegetables but also have a lawn, be VERY careful if you use any proprietary lawn-care products. In particular, never put grass clippings from a treated lawn into the Green Waste, because it will end up in the Municipal Compost and go on to devastate the crops of some other unsuspecting gardener!

I'm hoping the contamination in my garden is limited and a one-off, but I'll be keeping a very careful watch on my plants!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Supporting Broad Beans

Broad Bean plants can be very floppy and I think they benefit from some support. If left to their own devices they often get very tangled, and sometimes fall flat on the ground, where they can become wet and start to rot. Another reason why they are best kept upright is to give bees better access to the flowers. I have tried various support systems over the years, but I have concluded that the best method is to stake each plant separately. This of course is only really practical if you have a small number of plants. In this raised bed in my garden I have a total of 20 plants - 5 each of 4 different varieties - and this week I have staked them. They were getting too tall for the net which has been covering them since they were first planted out.

Each plant has its own 5-foot bamboo cane, to which it is lightly tied with soft green string.

Some varieties of Broad Bean grow quite tall, so longer canes might be necessary for these, though of course most people pinch out the tops of the plants once pods begin to set, because this helps to reduce Blackfly infestation.

The net which had been protecting the Broad Beans has now been re-deployed to the Parsnip bed, which has gone from this...

To this...

Up at the Courtmoor Avenue plot I have used the same staking technique for my Broad Beans, except that the canes have been substituted with some rather rustic sticks taken from the apple-tree prunings.

I can see that the apple-trees are going to be a very valuable source of materials for one thing and another. This makes me happy, because it is good to work in harmony with Nature whenever possible and little bits of wood will be much better for the planet than plastic or even bamboo imported from the other side of the world.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Stocking up with Brassicas

Over the last few days I have been busy pricking out a lot of little seedlings, most of which are brassicas of one sort or another - cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts etc. These are destined to be planted out at my Courtmoor Avenue plot in due course. I'm revelling in the feeling of being able to expand my horizons and grow a lot more plants than usual!

I had sowed the brassica seeds quite thickly in a collection of 8-inch pots, and what I have done now is to move them into separate 3.5-inch pots. In the course of doing this I have discarded any that looked weak, but even so I have ended up with about 50 little plants.

I have two different types of green cabbage (Greyhound and Golden Acre), one type of red cabbage (Red Drumhead), one type of cauliflower (All Year Round), two types of Brussels sprout (Cromwell and Evesham Special), and a few of Kaibroc (a hybrid of broccoli and kailaan).

When pricking out young seedlings like this you sometimes find that they have quite long, "leggy" stems, and it makes sense to bury the plants almost up to their first set of leaves. This will provide the plant with greater stability and make it less vulnerable to damage, as well as encouraging it to produce more roots.

A Brussels sprout seedling, buried up to the level of its first pair of leaves

The green cabbages will hopefully mature by early Summer, to be followed by the red cabbage and sprouts in the Autumn, and the cauliflower in late Autumn or early Winter. The Kaibroc grows much more quickly and I hope to be able to harvest some by late May or early June.

While I was in the mood I also pricked out some of the Leeks - though not all of them because this is a fiddly and time-consuming job!

Leek seedlings prior to pricking out.

Leek seedlings moved to individual pots

I still have a load of onions to do as well, but I'm not sure whether I should prick these out into individual modules, or just plant them out direct. What would you recommend?

Onions "Ailsa Craig"

Over the last week or so lots more of my shallots have sprung into life. I said previously that I would be happy if as few as 15 of my 45 shallots sprouted, so I'm very pleased to be able to report that so far the tally is 24. The others may well follow, I think.

Here's a view of all (no, most) of my seedlings. Do you think I'll have enough?

Now that this lot is sorted out for now, I really must get round to sowing more seeds. I didn't want to do this before our short holiday in Seville, but now that we're back I want to sow Parsnips, Beetroot and beans of various sorts, and before long it will be time to do the cucumbers and squashes. This is the busiest time of year in the garden!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A visit to Seville

It's a long time since I posted anything about "travels", which is a bit remiss of me, considering that my blog claims to be about "Gardening, food, cookery, family and travels". Today, I offer you a few words about our recent trip to Seville (Spain!).

The purpose of our trip was threefold: to explore a little of the historic city; to meet our daughter Fiona and her family who were touring southern Spain (Granada, Seville, Jerez); and to enjoy a bit of Spring sunshine. We succeeded on the first two, but failed dismally on the third. The weather was atrocious - cold and very wet! At least the accommodation was good. We jointly rented (via AirBnB) an apartment very close to the famous Real Alcazar gardens. In fact the apartment shared an ancient wall with the historic gardens:

The balcony of the AirBnB apartment, looking over into the Alcazar gardens

View of the apartment balcony (centre) from inside the Alcazar gardens

On our first full day in the city we all did a guided tour of the Alcazar (castle or fortress) and the cathedral. It was a private tour - just the guide and six of us (Jane, me, Fiona, her husband Juan and their two children).  We felt this was so much nicer than being in a huge gaggle of 'miscellaneous tourists'.

According to Wikipedia: "The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace in Seville, Spain, built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville." The architecture of the site is exceedingly complex - a mix of Moorish and Christian styles, closely interwoven - often deliberately so. The Islamic elements all use non-permanent materials (e.g. brick, plaster), and deliberately avoid things like stone, because apparently only Allah can achieve the perfection of permanence. Curiously, the Islamic architects had no qualms about using permanent materials that were already in existence, such as "recycled" Roman stone, whereas they would not use newly-quarried stone.

Mixed Islamic and Christian architecture in the palace of King Peter of Castile (1334 - 1369)

This is the Puerto del Leon (Lion's Gate).

Here is in the room in which the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci etc were discussed and approved. The painting illustrates the men, the types of ship they used, and the saints that were said to watch over them.

This is the Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens), featured prominently on Monty Don's recent TV programme Paradise Gardens.

This is the subterranean pool, lit and cooled entirely by overhead vents. It must have been a haven of cool tranquillity in the sweltering heat of the Summer (though it was distinctly chilly at the time of our visit!).

To be honest, I felt that the gardens of the Seville Alcazar were a bit underwhelming in comparison with the buildings. To me they seemed too formal and lacking in colour and variety of texture.

However, the saving grace was that almost every piece of 'hard' structure was covered in exquisite tile-work:

14th-Century tiles. Notice the unicorn!

Our guided tour moved on from the Alcazar to the nearby cathedral, dominated by the soaring tower of La Giralda, originally the minaret of an Islamic mosque constructed in the 12th century, but subsequently adapted into a Christian bell-tower after the city was recaptured from the Moors in 1248 during the Reconquista.

We found the cathedral very impressive, in terms of its size, its sheer opulence and its historical significance. This is a view of the ceiling with its vaults:

And this is the tomb of Diego, son of Christopher Columbus - some of whose remains reside in a very impressive casket borne by sculptured figures representing the four kingdoms of the united Spain: Castile, Leon, Navarre and Aragon.

The day after our visit to the castle and cathedral, we walked to the Parque Maria Luisa, a huge park allegedly inspired by the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. We had tried to visit this on our first day, but it was closed due to the dangers of falling trees / branches posed by strong winds! Without a doubt, the centrepiece of the park is the Plaza de Espana - at first sight a very imposing royal palace, though in reality an artificial one created for the huge Ibero-American Exposition in 1929.

The front face of the lower levels of the semi-circular building is comprised of sumptuously decorated alcoves representing all the cities of Spain, arranged in alphabetical order. As in so many other parts of Seville, the primary artistic medium is the glazed tile.

There was even an early 20th Century "Tourist Map" of the city, made of ceramic tiles!

With two young children in the party, we didn't want to devote too much time to looking at old buildings, so after a short stint on the park's play equipment, we took taxis to the Triana district in order to visit the market.

The Triana district has two markets, one of which has evolved into what most people would call a Food Court, consisting primarily of cafes and bars, but we visited the other one - the place where real local people buy real ingredients. I love visiting this sort of place!

We stopped at a little café to have some coffee and ended up staying there a couple of hours and eating a wonderful lunch prepared from ingredients fresh from some of the other market stalls. The café proprietor was exceedingly helpful. He said basically "Have a look at the market; if you see something you want to eat, come back and tell me. I will go and buy it and cook it for you." And he did! We ate vast quantities of meat and fish... (with me avoiding the latter, as ever).

Unfortunately the latter part of our stay in Seville was marred by persistent heavy rain, which was very unconducive to typical tourist activities, so we spent a lot of time indoors - mainly eating and drinking. There is no shortage of nice tapas bars in the city...

When the time came to head back to the airport we experienced a few moments of anxiety when we found that the city centre was blockaded by stationary taxis whose drivers were staging a strike. However, we did eventually make it to the airport in a pre-arranged chauffeur-driven car, although the journey took much longer than anticipated.

We loved what we saw of Seville. There is a lot to see and much of it is very conveniently situated in a smallish area, making walking from place to place a viable option when the weather is OK. Maybe we need to go back some other time, when the weather is better???