Thursday, 30 August 2012

Potato harvest

I've been waiting for the right time to harvest the potatoes. The gardening books say you should wait until the plants have flowered and the foliage has started to die off. There hasn't been any progress on the latter front for a few weeks so, in a fit of impulse and excitement, I decided that today was as good a day as any.

The potates were grown in a pot. I grow most of my veg this way as I've never had suitable land for growing. The ground here is heavy clay and water-logged. I'm gradually cultivating a border at the side which is drier but the soil is poor, having had a conifer hedge in it previously. By next spring, I should have some lovely homemade compost to dig in.

Back in the spring, I had a pot of compost which had been used for growing something else and potatoes in the cupboard which had started to go soft and sprout. Rather than throw either away, I decided to stick the potatoes in the bottom of the pot and see what happened.

My lovely Grandad wouldn't have approved. He was my gardening guru and taught me to put the potatoes in the bottom of the pot and only just cover them with compost. As soon as the shoots appear, add more compost and keep doing this until you reach the top of the pot. This should produce a better harvest.

Well, I did my own thing. So, what would I find under the compost?

I tipped out the pot onto an old grow bag. Lots of slugs hiding in the crocks at the bottom. And the first tantalising glimpse of pearly white.

Eagerly, I rummaged through the compost, making sure I found every last tuber.

How many? How many??

Well, not exactly the bumper harvest I'd hoped for but enough for a meal for two. Given that I started off with year-old spent compost, some random tubers and left them to it, I reckon this is a pretty good result.

And no matter how few there are, they're still going to taste amazing!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

East Riddlesden Hall

On 22 August we headed off to East Riddlesden Hall about an hour and a half's drive away. Travelling with us was Chickpea's Boyfriend.

It was raining when we arrived making the front seem dark and imposing, the stones blackened with soot from the area's industrial past.

Thankfully it's not like that inside and has the homely intimate atmosphere we prefer. It's a small 17th century manor house and one of the few National Trust properties in which you're allowed to take photos, though without flash. It was a welcome opportunity but the poor light conditions meant that few of my photos turned out well.

We took our time, reading all the information sheets and looking at the items on display. It was the first time Chickpea's Boyfriend had accompanied us and I wasn't sure he'd find it interesting wandering around old houses. However, he really seemed to enjoy it and took lots of photos as inspiration for his illustrations.

I was particularly taken with the simple flower arrangements which were placed throughout the house. I love the contrast here of the embroidered tablecloth and the rough fabric of the curtains against the wood and stone of the window.

We later found out they were the work of Mollie, a volunteer flower arranger who uses a specially planted cutting garden at the back of the grounds. These rudbeckia glowed in the dim light.

One of our favourite aspects was the interactive elements in some of the rooms. Chickpea tried out a replica bed in the Green Chamber and, in the kitchen, there were pots filled with different ingredients and spices to touch and smell.

I much prefer these simple pewter spoons to the fancy cutlery in grander houses.

While we were in the house, the sun came out, so it was back to the picnic area for dinner. I'd just laid out the food on the table when the rain returned. However, in true British style, we put up our umbrellas and carried on. Luckily the shower was short-lived and after eating, we set off to explore the gardens.

These alcoves housed the falcons used for hunting. Underneath were 'kennels' for the dogs which had just had pups.

Some areas of the garden are kept wild and natural like this lichen and moss-covered wall.

Other areas are more formal. This Chinese Spindle Tree had amazing 'flowers' which burst open to reveal scarlet seeds.

The Hall looked beautiful framed by these flowers. 

I loved the bright sunny orange-yellow of these rosehips.

At the back of the gardens behind a wall was Mollie's cutting garden and the Mud Pie Kitchen. This is part of the National Trust's 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 campaign to get children outside and enjoying the outdoors. Not something I ever managed to achieve with Chickpea who hates getting her hands dirty almost as much as she hates insects.

Before leaving, we visited the tea shop for Yorkshire tea (me), 'deluxe' hot chocolate and shortbread. It had been a lovely day with lots of interesting things to see.

And the highlight of Chickpea's day? Yes, it was this very friendly cat. Moments later it climbed onto her lap and her happiness was complete.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Duckling update

Remember this little fellow from my first ever post? We've been keeping an eye on its progress over the weeks and hoping for its survival.

Well, it did survive and this was our favourite duckling a few weeks ago, snuggled up with its brothers and sisters. More grey than yellow but still with fluffy juvenile feathers.

And this was a couple of days ago: very striking with its brown and white colouring. I wonder if it will stay this way or whether the pattern will change as it moves into adulthood?

The colouring doesn't give any clue to its gender. Most of the other ducks with this kind of pattern have tended to be female. However, there's a brown/white male this year who may or may not have been its father. He wasn't the male hanging around the duckling's mother but that doesn't mean anything! Hopefully, he or she will hang around until next year and produce multi-coloured ducklings of its own.

Interestingly, on the same evening, this white-headed Canada Goose was on the lake too and caused quite a stir.

There's always something to see on the lake even just how the colours and patterns of the water change with the different weather conditions: I feel so lucky to live near by.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Giant couscous & butternut squash

This recipe was inspired by the giant couscous. I saw some in Good Food magazine and couldn't wait to give it a try. None of the supermarkets around here seemed to stock it but I eventually tracked some down in the Waitrose near work.

The rest of the ingredients were either in the freezer or left over from other recipes: butternut squash, blue cheese, chorizo, pine nuts, spring onion and rocket.

The butternut squash was roasted in the oven with some olive oil and pepper until browned. The chorizo and pine nuts were pan fried together until the nuts changed colour. Everything was then tossed together and served on a bed of rocket. Absolutely yummy!

And yes, that is a strand of Chickpea's hair in my food. How on earth it got there when she didn't set foot in the kitchen while I was cooking I'll never know!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Crochet the birdie

As soon as I saw the Birdie Decoration on Attic24's blog, I wanted to have a go.

He's made of Rowan Handknit Cotton from John Lewis: 239 Ice Water, 303 Sugar, 313 Slick, 352 Sea Foam.

When I got the yarn home, I felt there needed to be more contrast so paid a visit to Black Sheep Wools. There I found a pale blue Debbie Bliss yarn, ecobaby (14030 Silver), which was perfect.

The pattern for the body was straightforward and helped when it came to making my round cushion (almost finished!). I struggled with the beak and couldn't get it to a point. However, with his wonky beak and his wing at a jaunty angle, I think it gives him character!

Both yarns were lovely to work with. It was the first time I'd crocheted with cotton though and I had to get used to it not 'giving' as much as wool.

The beads on his feet are from a dress I had at age 15! I was going to a party with my then-boyfriend and had picked out a dress. As we were leaving the shop my Mum noticed another dress on a sale rack for a couple of pounds. It had a Native American feel to it: short, made of white T-shirt material, with beaded tassels around the sleeves and hem. She thought it would be fun to pretend this was the dress I was going to wear. And she was right: his face was absolutely priceless when he arrived to pick me up! I never did wear the dress for real but I still have all the beads. Crafters save everything!

So, one last look at him in all his glory. Ta-dah!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Levens Hall

The weather forecast was for sunshine and showers - good enough. Off we set for Levens Hall, arriving just after 11 under grey skies. The house doesn't open until 12, so after a quick coffee from the flask, we headed into the gardens.

On the way we passed one of several heart motifs that we came across during our visit. Legend has it that Levens was won on the turn of an ace of hearts so you can see how this might be a popular symbol with the family!

Levens Hall is famous for its topiary and it's the first thing you notice as you step through the garden gate. Isn't the acid green of this pyramid amazing against the darker greens of the yew and the purple of the flowers?

I preferred the use of geometric and organic shapes for the topiary rather than animals.

Well, except for this patriotic little fellow who we fell in love with. We couldn't contain our delight when we rounded a corner and there he was in front of us!

We also fell in love with the planting in the rose garden with the contrast of the cottage-garden flowers against the sculptural shapes of the topiary.

These old-fashioned roses smelled wonderful. We wandered around sniffing as many as we could in between dodging the showers and sheltering under the trees.

You're really spoiled for choice for colourful planting schemes. I particularly liked the bold colours in the 'hot' beds.

And beautiful vistas in every direction. The garden is separated into different 'rooms', each with a different feel. I'm a sucker for flowers but this water garden was simple, calm and serene.

After a tour of the gardens it was time for dinner. The weather had improved so we sat at a picnic bench in the shade of a tree. Cheese and ham roll, pea soup, crisps and an apple.

By the time we'd eaten, the house had opened. No photography in the house so you'll have to take my word for it that it's worth a visit. I think I've mentioned before that me and Chickpea like older properties so, with its Elizabethan origins, this one didn't disappoint. It has a lovely feel - beautiful plaster ceilings, wood panelling, squeaky floorboards.

One of the highlights for me as a quilter was the 1708 quilt which has incredibly fine stitching. My Dad would have been interested in the wooden bowl which is reputed to have been used by Sir Francis Drake in the famous game at Plymouth as the Armada approached.

After the tour of the house we went back around the garden to experience it in the sunshine. At times the topiary reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

I have no idea what this plant is but the colour and shape of the flowers was fascinating.

The warmth of the sunshine carried the scent of the sweet peas and enticed you down the path. In this area, vegetables were intermingled with flowers. All along the path were courgette plants - we struggle to keep up with the number produced by our one plant so goodness knows what they do with the amount produced by all of these!

Eventually it was time to go and we left reluctantly. I enjoyed the visit to the house but it's the gardens which linger in my memory and for which it's justifiably famous. I've seen photos taken at different times of the year and it must be beautiful with the spring bulbs.

Above all, it was a pleasure just to be out in the countryside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Let's hope we get more for the rest of our planned day trips.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Butterfly sighting II

These earrings were £2 in the Next summer sale. I liked the butterfly charm but wasn't as keen on the pale yellow bead. However, it's a simple job to take off the bead, and they were such a bargain that into my bag they went.

Originally, I planned to use the butterfly on its own. But then I came across an old bracelet which had lost several of its beads. Of the remaining ones, these silvery nuggets were perfect.

I really love the earrings now. Light and delicate, they're much more to my taste. And it only took a few minutes of customisation. I'll be trying this again: maybe even taking apart some unused jewellery and creating something new. I feel a new craft coming on!