Aug 312014
 

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August, the most precious month of all. A month which is free from the school run, from deadlines and routines. Days spent as a family on our own terms, our hours ungoverned and free. Time spent outside, under the sky, in the wild spaces. A month for paddling, for jumping, for running, climbing and exploring. Days in which to breathe deeply, to feel the sun on our faces and the breeze at our backs. Nights of stargazing, days of dolphin watching. Searching for treasures along the shoreline, plundering bramble bushes for plump blackberries. A time for catching up with far-flung family and long-loved friends. Dawn walks and sunset strolls, kite flying and sandcastle building. A month of sandy toes and sun-streaked hair.

August, you’ve been a beauty and it breaks my heart a little to let you go.

As always, I’ve been looking back- to last August’s patchwork - and to the month ahead, with a Pinterest board for September.


September on Pinterest

 August 31, 2014  monthly patchworks Tagged with:  2 Responses »
Aug 292014
 

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Late summer is such a wonderful time for growing, foraging and cooking. My kitchen is brimming with fabulous produce and the only limit to my baking, preserving and bottling endeavours is my lack of time! Of all the delights that this season has to offer, it’s blackberries which are my favourites, and there seem to have been a particularly plump and juicy crop of them this year. As a child, we picked blackberries every summer, and now I do the same with my own children, returning from our rambles carrying a groaning basket, with bruise coloured fingers and purple-stained mouths.

I’ve made my annual batch of Bramble Jelly (I use the River Cottage Hedgerow Jelly recipe).  It is disappearing fast and I shall have to make some more as I’m hankering after a batch of Bramble Jam Tarts. Another blackberry recipe that I make each year is Nigella’s easy Blackberry Galette, and last year I discovered the delicious Blackberry and Brown Sugar Fingers recipe in the Yeo Valley Farmhouse Cookbook. The boys love a classic Blackberry Crumble with custard, and finally, if there are any berries left, I either freeze them, or add them to some vodka – Sabrina has a great Blackberry Vodka recipe over on her blog.

Since we launched #growforagecook earlier in the month, Sabrina and I been so delighted to see so many of you joining in using the #growforagecook hashtag, whether on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest. You’ve been whipping up some amazing looking treats, and making use of seasonal produce in all kinds of creative ways! Below is a selection of some of our favourites from over on Instagram.

august Top row: @littlegreenshed, @aquietcorner, @coldatnight

 Middle row: @manneskjur, @katgoldin, @craftsonsea

Bottom row: @katgoldin, @thelinencloud, @cariemay

There are some lovely blog posts out there too: we loved Karen’s tasty toffee apples, Sarah’s blackberry crumble cake and Laura’s prolific bramble patch. If you missed our plum recipes, you can also find my Plum Tray Bake here and Sabrina’s Spicy Plum Chutney here.

September is a plum month (sorry, sorry!) for foraging: the hedgerows offering up sloes, rosehips, haws, elderberries and crabapples to name but a few, and I shall certainly be out and about with my basket. I’m also anticipating damsons from my mother-in-law’s tree, windfall apples, and, in our veg box from the local farm, fennel, swiss chard and sweetcorn.

What do you love to bring in to your kitchen in September? Please do continue to share your own pictures, recipes or blog posts using the #growforagecook hashtag on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, or in the comments of this post. We can’t wait to see what deliciousness you’ve been producing!

Aug 212014
 

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I am documenting the year with monthly photographs of my kitchen table. Capturing the jumble that accumulates here, at the heart of the kitchen, is also a way to record some of the domestic stories of our family life.

August, amidst the school holidays, and the summer seems to be slipping away from me too quickly. I’ve been attempting to grasp its transient moments with the help of the new (to me) Polaroid 1000. How I love this camera! Easily thrown in a bag, or slung over my shoulder, it’s almost always a talking point. Loaded up with Impossible Project film, the prints that it produces are positively dreamy, oozing with golden summer light. A timeless evocation of my sons’ boyhood, each instantly nostalgic little rectangle brings with it a second of heart-stopping joy, 30 minutes after shooting, when I pull it fully developed from my bag and into the daylight, to be held and exclaimed over. I prop these polaroids on the shelf above my desk, slip them between the pages of my books, study and dream over them whilst I sip my coffee. Each of them more beloved than the last, every one infused with magic.

This month’s flowers, a jubilant bunch, were bought from my favourite honesty box shop. Outside a farmhouse, on the road to the house of a particularly good friend of mine, a row of buckets overflow daily with fresh posies. When we go visiting, I am careful to keep some change in my purse in preparation, for fresh flowers are a weakness of mine, and nothing cheers me more than one of these vibrant bouquets.

The sweet little yellow pot reads ‘Fine Welsh Honey, guaranteed pure. GJ Nugent, Chemist and Optician, High Street, Cardigan’. I dug it out from a jumbled box outside a particularly grimy junk shop whilst we were holidaying in beautiful West Wales. It currently holds some sea glass and a white quarz pebble from Penbryn beach. We visited Cardigan a couple of times in order to spend time at the frankly rather wonderful Pizza Tipi, part of Fforest. Should you find yourself in that part of the world, it’s well worth a visit!

The little cup and the airmail letters have both made a reappearance after many years lost. The hand-thrown cup was a gift from a friend when I was at school. At the time I didn’t drink coffee, but having re-discovered this lingering at the bottom of a box, I rescued it with delight, and immediately put the coffee pot on the stove to brew. In another box, found by my parents in their loft, were sheaves of blue aerogrammes, each sent by family and friends to my eighteen year old self during the year that I spend teaching in Thailand. There were also a handful from a summer spent in the States a few years previously. Many memories are contained within their filmy pages, some happy, some heart-rending. My favourite letter was that which was sent to me aged 15, by my brother, who was then 11. Such sweetness. The relationship between us at that time has been captured between its pages, delicately preserved as in a flower press. A gift to the future in which I now find myself.

Yellow, white, red and blue: the August table.

The kitchen story so far:

{the January table}

{the February table}

{the March table}

{the April table}

{the May table}

{the June table}

{the July table}

 August 21, 2014  on the table, shooting film Tagged with:  4 Responses »
Aug 132014
 

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In my last post, I introduced a brand new collaborative blog series: grow, forage cook, which I’m starting with my friend Sabrina.  I’m going to begin my #growforagecook adventures with the large basket of plums which was has been gracing my kitchen table…

At our local PYO farm, there is a row of slightly neglected Victoria plum trees, straggling down the edge of the field between the rhubarb and the strawberries. We picked (and jammed) more than our fair share of strawberries at the start of the summer. Now that late summer is upon us with its warm, languorous abundance, plums are our fruit of choice, and a far cheaper option than the last of the berries. The trees are laden down with them, a sticky purple covering of windfalls on the ground below. Branches are low-hanging so that the boys are perfectly placed for picking, and the fruit is so ripe that it comes away easily in their hands. We ended up with almost 3kg of fruit, enough for a trio of my favourite plum recipes.

Jam is always my first thought, when blessed with a large basket of fruit. My last attempt at plum jam had been a disaster – it had to be re-boiled and eventually was usable only as a compote. That was a couple of years ago, and my jamming skills have improved, so I felt brave enough to have a second try. I used the recipe from my bible of jam – the River Cottage Preserves book. Plums are rich in pectin, so it’s a simple recipe with only plums, sugar and a little water (this Country Life recipe is similar). This time, using a combination of the jam thermometer and the saucer test, I caught it at exactly the right time, and the resultant jam was richly flavoured with an amazingly deep purple colour to it. My only regret was that I made half the recipe quantity, so ended up with only three jars of the stuff.

The next day, we had friends to visit for a roast, which proved the perfect opportunity to make another of my favourite plum recipes: a clafoutis. I use the recipe from the My Daddy Cooks book (you can see it made on video here), and every time I make it, I am once again surprised by just how quick and easy it is, given that it makes for such a delicious (if inelegant) pud. A traditional French clafoutis is made with cherries (and I fully intend to make one, if I can track down some cherries), but it works equally well with the humble plum.

Finally, and inevitably, I had to bake a plum cake of some description. This plum tray bake with a cream cheese ripple is one that I’ve adapted slightly from a long-lost supermarket recipe card. Making two batters sounds more complicated than it is, and the resultant cake combines fruity caramel flavours with light and creamy layers. It’s really rather scrumptious eaten sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon sunlight with a hot cup of tea.

Plum Tray Bake with cream cheese ripple

200g cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp caster sugar

4 medium eggs

175g butter, softened

175g light brown soft sugar

200g self-raising flour

400g ripe plums, stoned and quartered (if small) or roughly chopped (if large

 

Preheat the oven to 180c, gas mark 4. Line a 23cm x 18cm shallow baking tin with baking parchment.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, vanilla extract, one egg and the caster sugar, until smooth.

In a separate bowl, or a freestanding mixer, combine the remaining eggs, butter, flour and sugar. Beat until pale and creamy.

Spread half the cake mixture over the base of the tray. Dollop over half the cream cheese mixture, mixing with an uneven swirl. Scatter with half of the plums. Spoon over the remaining cake mixture, dot with the rest of the cream cheese mixture. Scatter over the remaining plums.

Bake for about 45 minutes until risen, and just firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

 

So there you have it, three ways with plums for #growforagecook. I think it’s time for me to go and refill that basket. In the meantime, don’t forget that you can share your own pictures or blog posts (about plums or any other seasonal loveliness) using the #growforagecook hashtag on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, or in the comments  of this post. We’d love to see what’s been happening in your kitchen…

 

(I’m entering this recipe for the Rix Aga Inspired Recipe for August.)