Sunday, 8 April 2018

Garden visiting .... and the snow stayed away

I am pleased to say our friends, Bill and Kaye, visited us yesterday.

We had a lovely afternoon visiting former Gardener’s World presenter, the late Geoff Hamilton’s Rutland garden, Barnsdale. I’d like to have a bubbling fountain like this in our garden.

As you can see, there’s no snow on the ground (for a change). Even the rain held off. The weather was overcast but mild and still, just right for garden visiting.

Bill and Kaye are amongst our oldest friends .... in terms of how long we’ve known them, not their ages! Here they are still acting like teenagers.

That’s better!

This bench looks pretty with plants underneath, we have one like this in our garden, must plant around it. Barnsdale is full of ideas and inspiration.

I like the rusty grill on this ... erm ... not sure what it is, but I like it.

Topiary spirals here are beautiful, I won’t tell you what MTM said their shape reminded him of.

These quite tall white plants were in a semi-shaded area, I'm thinking they would look nice in our garden too.

Bill checking out the bee hive compost bins. Got lots of old pallets we could use to make some like these. 

MTM isn’t showing his age here. The huge smile was down to being absolutely delighted to get a quid concession off the entrance price. The rest of us were far too young to qualify. 

Lovely paviors

Concentric circles of pipe ends make a texturally interesting centrepiece for this circular paving.

A huge mop of black grass, we have two smaller specimens in our garden, the foliage looks stunning with this sedum and heather, contrasts beautifully..

Toadstools, a bee hotel and smoke breathing dragon under the bridge.

The catkins on this tortured tree looks amazing against the red dogwood stems, photo doesn’t do it justice.

Barnsdale’s floral display confirms Spring has definitely and finally arrived. Earlier when we were showing Bill and Kaye our garden (still very much under development) we spotted a big dead tree branch that the river had deposited on the bank. Bill suggested such driftwood gifts from the Witham could contribute towards a nice triangular bed like this ... good idea! 

We have lots of plain leaved arum growing wild in our garden, the lighter veining on this variety is very special, I must try to get hold of some.

Paved path with mixed materials.

We came home with a souvenir plant courtesy of Bill and Kaye’s generosity, couldn’t resist the startling colour of this primrose.

Dinner at our house,  bœuf bourguignon cooked by MTM rounded off a super day. We must do it again soon.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Chilli meat balls in chilli sauce

Around the time of Live Aid, a book was produced for Food Aid. Wogan viewers were asked to submit recipes for to a panel of food experts led by celebrity cook Delia Smith. The resultant book was much used in our kitchen.  The best recipe - and one MTM still cooks to this day - was Chilli Meat Balls in Chilli Sauce. I was telling my hairdresser, George of TotalFX (Lincoln) about it when I was last there and she said she’d love the recipe.

The book fell to bits many years ago so I can’t lend it to her. Over the years, the recipe has been modified quite a bit, the original had tinned tomatoes and we’ve added cumin, probably quantities have changed as well so, at the risk of sounding like I stepped out of Masterchef, this is our “own take” on the original recipe. If anyone has an in tact copy of the book, I’d love to credit the original inventor.

As I was typing it out anyway, I thought I may as well publish it on my blog as well so here it is.


For the meat balls
500g minced beef
3 slices of stale (or toasted) bread roughly torn
1 roughly chopped onion
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 teaspoons of chilli powder (to taste and depending on strength of chilli powder)
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 egg beaten

For the chilli sauce
2 glugs of rapeseed oil (substitute olive oil if you like but rapeseed oil browns better)
1 large onion chopped (more delicately this time)
Half pint mug of stock (homemade, from bouillon powder or chicken stock cube)
Tin of kidney beans drained and rinsed
Green pepper deseeded and chopped
Carton of Passata 
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
Scant teaspoon powdered cumin (not seeds)

Make the meat balls

Put chopped onion, garlic and bread into a food processor with a chopping blade and give it a good whizz, adding the chilli powder and salt as it’s getting finely chopped. NB on the amount of chilli powder, it’s your call how much to add as chilli powders vary in strength, two teaspoons of our chilli powder makes very hot meat balls, bear in mind, there will be more chilli powder in the sauce ...)

Tip the blended onion into a large bowl, add the minced beef and then get stuck in to thoroughly mix (hands are best to knead it together). Add about half the egg to act as glue.

Take the ball of pulp, divide into half, divide the halves into half again, repeat until you have 16 equal sized lumps to roll into balls. Brush remaining beaten egg onto your balls, stop sniggering immediately and heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Make the sauce

Chop the second onion (more delicately this time, you’re not going to put it in the food processor this time). Heat a glug of oil in a deepish frying pan, Brown the balls in batches of 4, moving them around to avoid sticking. When browned, remove from oil, placing them in a shallow ovenproof dish, arranging so they fit but avoid touching each other. 

Wipe out the frying pan with some kitchen paper, introduce the other glug of oil to the pan, fry the onion for 5 minutes or so to soften but not brown. 

Add chilli powder and cumin, heat gently for couple of minutes (no more), whilst stirring to coat the onion.

Add stock and bring to simmering point, add three quarters of the passata, bubble up. Add green pepper.

If you are serving with brown rice, you need to put a pan of water on to boil at this point.

After 5-10 minutes, add the kidney beans, keep bubbling and add a little more passata if needed.

Pour sauce over your balls and place in top half of the oven.

Put the brown rice into the by now boiling water, reduce to a simmer for 25 minutes. Drain and rest, giving the dish a further 5 mins in the oven (30 mins total cooking time) 

Whilst everything is cooking, you can start a nice bottle of wine (if you haven’t already) or a beer if you prefer and make a salad to go with it all dressed with your favourite vinaigrette ... my secret ingredient for this is white condimento of Modena by Belazu instead of white wine vinegar. You used to be able to buy this at Tesco or Sainsbury’s but these days, only Waitrose and specialist delicatessens seems to stock it.

Place the drained rice onto warmed plates and dress salad.

Serve up to yourself, partner and two guests, letting them do their oohs and wows; you must not tell them it was actually a piece of wee wee.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Blue moon ... blue (and purple) beads

I recently received a message via my Etsy shop asking for some renegade beads. This particular customer wanted some cooler spectrum beads in blues and purplee instead of the single colour options I list quite frequently. I had a root around in my leftovers jar and managed to come up with the above selection. They look so pretty together, I might make up some more bi-coloured renegade sets as I'm sure other people would be interested in them as well.

Immediately after I listed them in the shop (along with some other sets), I made a note in my diary of the amount I listed today (this is a habit of mine) and my diary tells me that there's a bloon moon today. This bodes well for this blue and purple lampwork set, fingers crossed the customer likes them!

Please feel free to make suggestions for other colour combinations at any time either via my Etsy shop or right here in the comments section. 

I hope everyone is having a Happy Blue Moon Easter Saturday.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

And another thing ...!

The weather must be mad at my last posting because winter has returned with a vengeance this weekend.

In fact I do feel a bit responsible. During the original Beast from the East’s blast in February, we arranged to go garden visiting to look at snowdrops with good friends who live some distance away. Due to the difficulties travelling, not to mention the way the snow was inconveniently hiding the flowers underneath, we postponed.

Never mind snowdrops, we rearranged to  have our day out when the miniature daffodils will be out in March. That was yesterday. Thinking there’s no enjoyment to be had in going outside during a blizzard in (feels like) -8 temperatures, we postponed a second time. 

I won’t be revealing the newly arranged date, if it snows in April, I’d like to retain the right of plausible deniability. This time, when winter retreats, I will not be rude. Instead, I will blow it an affectionate kiss, wave it a fond farewell, we’ll miss you ... see you next year ... can’t wait! 

Monday, 5 March 2018

The beast is banished

For the past few days, the Beast from the East has wrought havoc on the UK. As unprepared as ever, our infrastructure ground to the usual halt. We don’t invest to the same degree as countries that have guaranteed snow every year for weeks because - for the sake of an occasional few days - the financial justification makes no sense where the polar twilight’s shadow is absent. 

We had snow all week but today it started disappearing ... sloping away into cracks and fissures. Maritime air squashes the halitosis of winter’s breath and allows an unassertive Spring to finally emerge from its shrinking sanctuary.

I planted groups of 10-20 snowdrops in the green last year in various locations in the garden using Monty Don’s naturalistic planting technique (throw a handful on the ground and plant where they land). The idea of spreading them around being they would re-emerge in the places where habitat and conditions suited them in at least one place and then establish and spread out. About half have emerged in a few places. 

Fuckety bye bye to winter!