seville season

P1270200Blink and you miss them: the season for Seville oranges is so short that many greengrocers and supermarkets don’t get round to stocking them at all. And if you fail to bag a kilo or two in January, early February if you are lucky, you can forget about making marmalade for another year.

I suspect that I am more in thrall to the ritual of making marmalade than I am to the  marmalade itself. I like the idea of tracking my prey (has anyone spotted them in the shops yet, I ask fellow marmalade makers), gathering the jars and then setting aside a day in which to juice, slice, boil and then bottle these unpromising oranges which are so bitter and lacking in actual fruit it’s a wonder that anything good can be done with them at all.

P1270175This year it’s fair to say that I’ve gone a little overboard. No one, not even the keenest marmalade maker, needs more than a couple of kilos of Seville oranges. But a fruitless search (excuse the pun) for marmalade oranges in my local shops resulted in a trip to Bristol’s fruit and veg market with my mother-in-law, Sue, where a kind of madness came over us. We were offered 20kg/44lbs of Sevilles for £17 with a few lemons thrown in for free. It seemed to silly to say no.

I have now made sixteen jars of marmalade with roughly 2kg and given 2kg to a friend. This leaves me with another six kg to deal with. Hmm…

P1270186And then, as I put my jars away, I found three jars of marmalade from January 2012. Vintage marmalade, you might say. It looks a little fudge-like so I’ve decided it needs using up quickly. Some will go in a marinade; some in a chocolate cake; and I now have it on good authority from various Instagramers that bread and butter and marmalade pudding is the business.

But of course none of this deals with the Seville orange mountain on the kitchen table. So I spent yesterday evening doing a little googling and have come up with some interesting recipes for the oranges themselves rather than clever things to do with marmalade. I will report on my experiments.

And tomorrow I’ll post the marmalade recipe I use.

St Philip’s Wholesale Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Market: Albert Crescent, St Philips Monday to Friday, 5am – 11am Saturday 5am – 9am

excuses, excuses…

orangesI had planned to return to blogging on New Year’s day: not a New Year’s resolution exactly, but a goal of sorts. New Year’s day! What was I thinking?

And then, when that date flew past, I thought I’d aim for the first day of the new school term. Nothing like a once bustling house suddenly still and quiet to concentrate the mind. But no, the house was a wreck, as it always is at the end of every school holiday. Now I am by no means a neat-freak, but I do find it impossible to focus when I am surrounded by dirty laundry and I keep tripping over the recycling. So week one was lost to life admin and domestic drudge.

Trawling through my photographs, I can see that the last four months have been incredibly busy. And looking at the long list of draft posts there was a lot to blog about (sour dough, knitting, bulbs, weird and wonderful Bristol stuff, the joy of soup and so on), but the posts were never completed. The simple fact is, there hasn’t been time to write anything coherent enough to share.

The end of last term was dominated by Matilda’s exams — some quite serious, others just mocks — but god, the STRESS! And all I had to do was steer her to bed before midnight and talk her down from the occasional panic attack. Matilda bounced back the moment the term was over, but I feel that I’m only just coming up for air.

But this morning, a sweet comment from Loisaida Nest on my Instagram account in response to my photograph of a big box of Seville oranges (bagged for a bargain at the fruit and veg market and to be shared with my mother-in-law, Sue), prompted me to get back my blog. If all goes well a marmalade post will appear soon.  

But for now, I’ll sign off with some photographs taken in a temporary forest created from old Christmas trees.

P1270170Ours is in there somewhere…

P1270162We were sure we’d recognise it…

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But it was hopeless. Details here for anyone who wants to visit.

thank pippin it’s friday!

P1250472At the girls’ primary school, SATS week is known as doughnut week because the children’s efforts are rewarded with a daily doughnut. Some might see that as a double-dose of ill health, but the doughnuts certainly take the edge off the exams and really, in the greater scheme of things, where’s the harm in a one-off week-long doughnut binge? Slightly more questionable is Doughnut Day, a ritual which our family has embraced with alarming ease, and celebrated with grave commitment, ever since Joe first came across the Pippin Doughnut stall on Wine Street.

P1250471I comfort myself with the fact that our Doughnut Day doughnuts are no ordinary doughnuts — and they really are, as you will see, extraordinary doughnuts — but there’s no way round the fact that what we are talking about here is a ball of dough which has been fried and then rolled in sugar. I’m not sure whether I’m trying to excuse our addiction or justify it, but the bottom line is Pippin doughnuts are delicious  I say that as someone who doesn’t even like doughnuts — and the reason we have just one doughnut day each week is entirely down to the fact that the Pippin Doughnuts only come to Bristol on Fridays*. They are also rather expensive at £1.30 each, £6.50 for six, or £10.95 for twelve.

P1250468But then again, the ingredients used to create the doughnuts are far from cheap and the dough, which is proved twice to improve texture and flavour, takes a long time to make. With homemade fillings as delicious and varied as gooseberry jam, lemon curd and rhubarb & custard, I think it’s fair to say that Pippin doughnuts are about as far removed from your usual supermarket doughnuts (Krispy Kreme included) as you can get. I think of them as being like Stella Artois: reassuringly expensive and much, much tastier.

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P1250480 P1250482The girls may forget their school books, PE kit, packed lunches, front door keys, shoes and socks even, but every Friday, whilst grumbling at each other over the breakfast table, they remember to place their doughnut order.

P1250486In the photographs above you can see last week’s box which contained three Bear Claws (this is what a Canadian friend says the oddly shaped cinnamon-coated doughnuts are called back home, but I think Pippin just list them as cinnamon and sugar), one chocolate ganache, one gooseberry and, just out of sight, a cappuccino doughnut with a coffee custard filling and topped with coffee icing and a dusting of cocoa powder.

P1250487Gourmet cup cakes your days are numbered, the designer doughnuts have arrived!

http://www.pippindoughnuts.co.uk, pippinbakery@aol.com, 01793 496210                            Pippin Doughnuts Wine Street, Bristol every Friday apart from the last Friday of the month. 

neighbourhood art

P1250544This morning, while walking up to school, Martha and I spotted this rather lovely creation on a local lamp post. I have no idea who is behind it, but I am hoping that more will follow.

P1250546I can’t decide which character is my favourite. Mr Fox has a certain charm …

P1250547But then again, so does the bird…

P1250550As you can imagine, our walk to school took rather longer than usual.

Posting these images reminded me that I haven’t shared any street art or graffiti for a while, so here is a round-up from the last six months or so.

IMG_0613IMG_0614The fabulous lion (above), and the crazy rabbits (below), are both the work of local artist, Alex Lucas who, amongst other things, runs the the little shop I wrote about here. The Lion arrived in the spring and the rabbits came on the scene at the end of the summer holidays.

IMG_1210 IMG_1211 IMG_1212And finally, a few words from the streets. First, a hungry letter box (I spotted this in Oxford).

P1110714And to finish, a witty post box near St Andrew’s Park (by the same hand as this, surely).

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keep on running

P1210953Last Sunday, for the first time, I took part in the annual Bristol 10K. It was an incredible experience to run through the streets of Bristol with around 9,000 other runners, and then out along the Portway, with the gorge rearing up on one side and the river on the other. It was wonderful to spot Joe and the girls in the crowd, fun to look out for my running friends amongst the Lycra-clad pack and amazing to be cheered on by thousands of total strangers. Running alongside giant bananas, polar bears and lots of superheroes was pretty fabulous too. And through the generous sponsorship of family and friends I managed to raise £245 for COCO, a really fantastic children’s charity founded by Steve Cram.

I completed the course in 61 minutes and nine seconds. Not an especially impressive time — the winner finished in 30 minutes and five seconds: those pesky seconds! — but it was impressive for me because this time last year I hadn’t run anywhere for over twenty years, and I didn’t even own a pair of trainers.

But last August, inspired by both the Olympics and my husband’s distinctly chipper post-run demeanour, I decided to give running a go. I also realised that standing in the park watching the dog run around was not really keeping me fit. Better, I thought, to go and run around with the dog.

My first run took all of three minutes and I hated it. My second run, a day later, was about a minute longer. The only reason I managed a second run was because for a good few hours after the pain of the first one, I felt completely high: a strange sense of elation mixed with a feeling of increased energy. Within two weeks I found that I no longer hated the running, and I began extending my run as soon as I could complete a particular route without stopping. In mid-september I started the couch to 5K regime with my friend and fellow dog walker, Nicki, and I ditched the daily run in favour of three thirty minute sessions a week.

I’d really recommend this approach to anyone who wants to take up running. It’s a brilliant combination of walking and running and you work steadily towards being able to run three miles in around thirty minutes. I’d also really, really recommend finding a running partner: last winter was unbelievably cold at times, but because we didn’t want to let each other down, Nicki and I kept to our routine. We ran through rain, lots and lots of rain; we ran in high winds where we could hardly catch our breath; we ran in snow, which was fantastic even though our toes froze. We ran when it was so cold that our legs felt like lead, our noses were pinched and we couldn’t feel our fingers. In fact only icy pavements and illness kept us from running.

Now, nearly nine months on, I run two to three times a week. The first mile is never much fun. But after that something strange happens. My brain detaches from my body, and even if my legs feel cold or tired, I’m able to keep going. My mind is free to think. Or, if I am running with a friend, which is often the case, we chat (though we’ve learned that at least one section of the run has to render us incapable of saying anything other than “bloody hell!”). We also freestyle our routes, allowing ourselves to be drawn down interesting-looking roads or along beautiful tree-lined avenues. Sometimes we strike out over the Suspension bridge, or drive to the woods where the paths are soft and springy under foot. Sometimes our runs last about 40 minutes, others are about an hour and a half. I am addicted. But oddly enough, as I pull on my running gear, I never, ever feel like running. That only happens once I’m doing it. And sometimes it only feels good when it’s over, which sounds perverse, I know. The post-run sense of well-being, however, kicks in without fail and lasts for the rest of the day.

And as for the post-race* high, well that seems to last even longer. Which is why I want to do it all again. Only this time I want to go a little further, and perhaps slightly faster. I’ve got my sights set on the Bristol Half Marathon.

* race — I use the term in its broadest sense because, of course, although this sort of event is a race, only those wearing white bibs are in it to win it. For the rest of us it’s simply a race against yourself in that you want to improve on your PB (personal best). The back half of the pack I was running with were still crossing the start line as the winner arrived at the finish.

PS This is the LINK to my Just Giving page for COCO, if anyone feels in the mood to donate!

making do

P1210274This time last year the first of my tulips were in flower, and the house was filled with vases of homegrown narcissus, hellebores and hyacinths. This year is rather different.

P1210275I’m making do with tulips from the supermarket and local florist whilst keeping anxious watch over flower beds and pots. I am beginning to wonder whether those back-breaking bulb planting sessions last autumn were nothing but a bad dream.

P1210309I could probably bore for England about the weather (so cold, so grey; so fed up with wearing scarves and fingerless gloves indoors), but compared to people on Arran, I have no real cause for complaint: my heating works and I can get out and about to indulge myself with fresh flowers whilst picking up the everyday essentials we take for granted.

P1210312Mind you, having just written that, I have noticed that it’s started to snow..

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taking stock

P1210209Amazing what a dose of even fairly weak sunshine can do for one’s spirits.

P1210205Every year I spend much of January and February trying not to look at the garden. When I do, I am filled with despair: I simply can’t believe that it will ever look nice again. Back in October I dug up almost everything at the bottom of the garden to make way for new raised beds and a pond, and this section looks particularly bleak at the moment.

P1210223But Sunday’s sunshine tempted me outside. The novelty of feeling the warmth of the sun on my back and being able to wear only one jumper rather than three, meant that I spent most of Sunday afternoon pottering in the garden — my first proper session in the garden.

It looked pretty desolate, but it was good to face up to the ravages of winter and my total neglect. And after an hour or two of methodical pruning, cutting, raking and mulching, most   of the garden had sprung back into focus.

My thoughts had snapped into focus as well, and I now have a plan for those empty beds.

P1210194For now, I’ve cordoned off the area with chicken wire to protect the few remaining plants from the rampaging dog, and to be honest it looks worse than it did before. But in a week or two things should start shaping up.

In the pop-up green house, I was delighted to see that the first of my sweet peas are emerging and tiny little dots of green on black, damp soil tell me that my rocket and
cut-and-come-again lettuces are on their way too.

P1210237By five o’clock it was chilly again, so I kicked off my boots and finished these mittens (ravelled here). And despite today’s sunshine, it was cold enough to wear them.

a good egg

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On Thursday night I went to a lovely party at Tart, on the Gloucester Road, to celebrate the publication of A Good Egg — A Year of Recipes From an Urban Hen-Keeper

Genevieve Taylor is the hen-keeper of the title, and her book is a charming and inspiring diary of a year in her kitchen, her garden and her hen-house. When not tending her hens, she is also a very talented food stylist and cook (you’ve doubtless been inspired by something she has created without realising it, as her work has appeared in many magazines and ad campaigns), and the book grew from Genevieve’s blog, The Urban Kitchen, which she started when her first batch of chickens arrived and surprised them all with their dedicated laying: 3-4 eggs a day, every day, all year. That’s a lot of eggs.

P1210185But Genevieve is clear that A Good Egg is not an egg cookery bible (neither is it a how-to for prospective hen-keepers), explaining that it’s “a seasonal diary of all that I did with my eggs, and the food that I grew and gathered to eat alongside them.” In fact it is Genevieve’s passion for seasonality that is at the heart of the book, informing her writing as well as her recipes. A point she proved with a lovely reading from the 14th March which was all about wild garlic; as she read we were treated to slices of wild garlic flamiche (the wild garlic had been gathered locally, that morning), followed by mini mocha eclairs and tiny rhubarb pavlovas. Delicious.

P1210186And the recipes — nine or ten for each month — despite coming from the kitchen of a very talented cook, are by no means complicated or fussy; rather they are dishes designed for busy family life: delicious, wholesome and speedy. Of course the temptation is to say “Pah!” to seasonality and leap ahead with the help of the supermarket — which in the case of Crisp cannellini bean and Courgette Fritters is exactly what I intend to do. Other recipes to whet your appetite include a Peach and Almond cake with lavender syrup; English Nicoise of Smoked Trout, Jersey Royals and Asparagus; Courgette and Lime muffins; Broad bean, Feta and Mint Omelette… I could go on… and on!

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The book is a rather beautiful object in its own right — a Tiffany-blue-green cloth cover, with an (egg yolk?) yellow ribbon for marking favourite pages — illustrated throughout with wonderful, hunger-inducing photographs, taken by Bristol-based photographer, Jason Ingram (his blog is over there to the right of the screen and well worth exploring).

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This last image I include, because it sums up for me, Genevieve’s un-fussy, straightforward approach to cooking: for who hasn’t failed on the planning-ahead at some point? I am  regularly caught out by the dastardly line, hidden in many a recipe, which runs something like “… and now leave in the fridge for 12 hours, preferably 24.” No! No! No! My friends are arriving in four hours’ time, not tomorrow, goddammit! Though I must stress, this particular recipe does not offer a clever route around the protracted process of making a Christmas Pudding. It’s just that I liked her admission that tradition and rules don’t dominate her kitchen or her recipes — in this case it’s her failure to make the Christmas pud on Stir Up Sunday. Her Carbonara with cavolo nero is probably a better example, not least because she describes it as “inauthentic in the extreme,” though it sounds heavenly.

And finally, as I have already said, although A Good Egg is not a guide to keeping chickens, be warned, it will certainly tempt you to have a go. Last night, as I thumbed through my copy, I found myself considering all manner of bizarre constructions — tree house!? — in order to add a chicken or two to our household even though I know our garden is far too small.

fallow*

anemoneIn January, I embarked on an interesting project with two friends, which will run until July. It’s strange to have a formal structure to my week after so many years in which my work has come in fits and starts with lengthy lulls between the deadlines. I can’t write about it in great detail because, although it’s not a secret or particularly special, the project isn’t entirely mine, so it wouldn’t feel right to air it here until we’ve finished. Enough to say that it’s rewarding and painful in equal measure, and doesn’t leave me with much spare time. Something has had to give, and I’m afraid it’s been the blog.

But this post is by no means “over and out!”, more an explanation of the fallow state of my corner of the internet.

P1190966I began writing here, nearly three years ago, in order to record the life of my small city garden. Naturally enough, as with most other blogs I read, its remit quickly expanded; but the garden was always there in one form or another —  a bunch of flowers, a newly planted bed, rose petal jam. But in January the garden was asleep and so it felt like an appropriate moment to take time out from blogging regularly.

P1190968Actually, the garden wasn’t entirely asleep: these Anemone de Caen, which I planted in an old wine crate last spring, have been flowering, one or two at a time, since late October.

Over the last week other things have started to emerge and the usual gloom I feel about the garden at this time of year is lifting. My mood was given a further boost by the arrival of a really wonderful and incredibly inspiring book: Veg Street Grow Your Own Community by Naomi Schillinger, whose blog Out of my Shed is one that I have long admired. I’m off to read it now, over a cup of coffee and, as the sun is out, I might even venture into the garden with pen and paper and make a few plans.

I will post a proper review of the book later in the week, but for now I’ll just say that I cannot recommend her blog highly enough, and I feel sure that I’ll be saying the same about her book.

* Hoping that, as with farm land left to lie fallow, there will be increased productivity later in the year!

snow!

P1200003 Life has been very busy lately, which is why it’s been rather quiet here on the blog. But the thick blanket of snow which arrived on Friday morning has changed all that.

P1200018In a matter of hours our neighbourhood was transformed. Most of Bristol’s schools were closed and the atmosphere in our street, and in the park, was a bit like having a second run at Christmas but without any of the Bah! Humbug! and stress.

P1200021 P1200022 P1200092 P1200091 P1200093Life has slowed to an unsteady dawdle (though now that I’ve located my Yaktrax, I’ve been able to speed up a bit) and the last two days have been a lovely mixture of tobogganing in the park and walking the dog – usually the last thing the girls want to do is walk the dog, but it’s suddenly right up there at the top of the what-I-want-to-do-today list.

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The dog adores the snow, and races around the park and the garden in a state of demented joy and then passes out by the fire when we get home. The poor cat is in a deep sulk – she hates the snow and is wearing an expression of pained resignation.

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