manky tomatoes

The tomato harvest has finally come to an end.  We mostly grow cherry toms and on clearing out the greenhouse we were left with a bowl of rather mixed and manky looking tomatoes.  On the basis that we, the humans, get first dibs before the chooks the sad looking collection was transformed into bottled roasted tomatoes.

 

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Place the tomatoes on a roasting tray and sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Place in a very low oven (50 C or less or the bottom of the Aga) for at least 8 hours or overnight.  This really is where the Aga comes into its own.  Check on them every now and then after about 8 hours and when they are dark, soft and almost caramel like pop into a sterilised jar and cover with olive oil.

Perfect as the basis for a tomato pasta sauce.

Love Gillie x

herb oil

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Yup it’s that time of year again.  Now we all know that a cute little baby elf will die every time somebody puts up a decoration or sings a carol before the beginning of December?  What you didn’t know that?  Shame about all those poor little elves.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan, in fact you need to plan, unless of course you a bloke with a woman who does all the planning for you.  Massive generalisation I know,  but if the cap fits …

Rather smugly I can say that present wise I am pretty much sorted.  Well, I still have to finish a pair of socks and start a cardigan but the rest is pretty much sorted.  Today was hamper day.  Some exceptionally lucky people are getting a little hamper of home made goodies.  What do you mean “poor sods I hope she doesn’t give them botulism”?!

Today was herb oil.  The lovely bottles originally contained a rather lovely Rosé from Provence.  For reasons of which I am unsure we only drank four bottles.  I may have to purchase some more.  Anyway, I originally bought the wine because I loved the bottle and I loved the glass stopper.  The wine was a pleasant bonus!

Wash and dry bottles and add herbs of your choice.  I tend to use stronger woody ones that can survive in the oil without curling up and looking manky! A whizz round the garden produced:

  • Rosemary
  • Bay leaves
  • Lemon thyme

To which I added:

  • Sliced garlic
  • Red peppercorns
  • Long peppercorns (also known as Indonesian peppercorns)
  • Penja black peppercorns
  • Juniper berry

Topped up with olive oil and sealed.  I’ll tie a pourer around the neck and they are all ready for the little hampers.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

autumnal herbs

When I wake in the morning I can no longer hear the dawn chorus, when I sit outside in the evening even I need a jumper and we lit the stove for the first time last night.  I can no longer pretend that summer isn’t coming towards its end.  I had never really thought of myself as a summer girl, but as I have got older I have become aware that summer is the time that I truly come alive.  I am more productive and my creativity ups several notches.  Getting dressed in the morning takes seconds and I live in my Birkenstocks all day and every day.  The garden is full to bursting and we have fresh flowers in every room of the house.

However the is a reason for every season and as autumn begins to take the upper hand I can start to gather in.  Our vegetable garden, along with much of the house, was being rebuilt this year so we didn’t have as big a harvest this year.  However, the winter veg are in, the greenhouse has brought forth a bumper offering and the herbs have been as abundant as ever.

I do have a dehydrator, but I prefer to use that for roots and fruits.  For leaves I leave them to hang in the boiler house.

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Parsley, lavender and marjaram.

The mint, lemon balm and sage have been hanging for a few weeks and are now ready to put away in jars.

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We have also made our own bacon, salt beef and lox.  Today I shall be picking the rosehips for syrup, shrub (sweet vinegar), jelly, ketchup and elderberry and reship tonic.

What are you drying and preserving this autumn?

love Gillie x

 

mango mango mango

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There is nothing like a mango, nothing that I can know.  With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II.  One of the many, many bonuses of being in SE Asia is the proliferance of mangoes.  Back home we usually only have two choices of mango (Kent and Keitt) both of which are relatively bland compared to the huge choice available across Asia.  Mango is sold on almost every street corner in Thailand, chopped up in little bags with convenient little wooded sticks to avoid getting your fingers sticky.  As the girls will confirm, any attempt to prevent my fingers getting sticky and dribbling food down my front is bound to fail.  I am the messiest eater I know.  As a result when travelling and needing a snack to keep me going I avoided the fresh variety and instead stocked up on dried mango.  The only problem was that I could eat an entire family sized bag in one sitting, and frequently did!

The good news is that it is now possible to get other varieties of Mango in the UK.  One option is to seek out your local specialist Indian supermarket or if you live in Durham the wonderful Robinsons Greengrocers on North Road, but if you are in a specialist shop desert you can find some delicious Pakistani and Indian mangoes in some of the larger supermarkets and I am reliably informed that Thai mangoes will be available this year too.  Get hunting mango lovers.

However, dried mango is readily available and to maintain my mango fix without dribbling down my front I made these yummy mango balls from Madeleine Shaw’s Ready Steady Glow

  • 200g dried mango
  • grated zest of one lime
  • 180g desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • sesame seeds for rolling

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Soak the mango in water for half an hour or so and drain.  I kept the water and put it in my water bottle for the next day.

Add the mango to the rest of the ingredients and blitz in a food processor.

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Mould into bite-size balls and roll in the sesame seeds.  Keep in the fridge for as long as you can!

Next time I may pass on the sesame seeds or perhaps toast them first as I didn’t think they added all that much and they kept sticking between my teeth.  But the wonderful thing about this kind of recipe is the total adaptability.  Swap mango for dried apricots, swap coconut for chopped nuts (I’ve tried apricot and pistachio – you can see the little green squares on the left of the top photo – they were delicious and as you can see there are only a few left!)

Enjoy.

Love Gillie x

food glorious food

Family Smellie is very keen on its food and Thailand has not let us down once.  So we thought it was time that we did a little hands on cooking.   Rather than just stuffing our faces with the delicious food cooked by others, we would do some of the preliminary work ourselves.

Enter Toi, chef extraordinaire at Sea Dance.  She was chosen to bravely steer Family Smellie through the cooking process.  This is what awaited us when we arrived for our lesson.

 

Even if we didn’t cook it but just feasted with our eyes and noses that would have been a sensual journey in itself.  But Family Smellie needed to fill its bellies so onwards and upwards.

First up, as in any good project of any kind, is the preparation.  I was put on chopping duty and managed to impress Toi not only with my knowledge of nam pla but also my prowess with a mini machete!

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We began with seafood salad and followed with chicken green curry and chicken and ginger stir fry.  The Travellerwas not impressed by having to skin and scour the squid, but she did an excellent job.

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The seafood was left to marinade in soy sauce, nampla, chopped chilli, chopped garlic and palm sugar.  The Boss was in charge of chicken prep.

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First up was the green curry.  The curry paste was added to hot oil and the coconut cream added spoon by spoon.  I am used to chucking the tin in all at once, but this way the sauce remained thick and cooked more slowly, it was thinned with water or chicken stock later.

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Chicken first and finally vegetables.

 

The volunteer took notes.

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Stir fry was down to the Traveller and she was not convinced she could do the flip so expertly demonstrated by Toi, convinced that instead she would cover the Boss with a selection of chicken and vegetables.

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But she got the wrist action and managed a perfect stir fry flip with no stray veg at all.

 

And the finished products.

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And time to eat.

 

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A few days later I bumped into Toi in the gardens and she showed me around her kitchen garden.  Many of the vegetables used in the kitchen are grown on site and Toi is an excellent gardener as well as chef.  I also managed to impress her again with my knowledge of Holy Basil, there are hidden depths to me yet!  She not only grows a huge range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen but also a comprehensive range of herbs for the spa as well.  And I can testify that the spa is as good as the kitchen!

Love Gillie x

 

 

Wear the Wild

Regular readers will know I am huge fans of Chris and Rose Bax of Taste the Wild.  I have been on plenty of their courses from Herbal Medicine (where my recently macerated knee provided a live demonstration of how to make a poultice)  two and a half days foraging in Staithes.  We have also been mushroom foraging with them and Stuart learned how to butcher a deer.  So you can imagine my glee on my birthday when I discovered I had a morning with Rose making cosmetics.

I make a lot of my own cosmetics and potions etc, but there is nothing more fun than doing it with other people and there is always more to learn.  So last Tuesday I got up early, scraped the ice off the car and headed down to North Yorkshire.  Boy was it cold so the cup of tea on arrival was most welcome.

Cop a look at this.

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Infused oils and dried herbs and flowers all ready to be played with.  First we made shampoo.  Rose gave us comprehensive tables with the properties of the various herbs and flowers. She had already made a birch decoction which we would all include in our shampoo as birch is a wonderful all rounder for hair, then we chose three other ingredients.

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We steeped our additional ingredients in the hot decoction and added it to pure castile soap.

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And there you go.  I don’t even use conditioner now, though do be careful not to get castile soap in your eyes!

Next up was a healing balm.

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Melt pure beeswax into the infused oils of your choice.  Note the clever homemade bain marie.  When slightly cool add an essential oil of your choice.

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Pour into clean pots and leave to set.  Wait until it is almost set before putting on the lid so avoid contamination with condensation.

 

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Next was lip balm, made in much the same way but this time with peppermint essential oil.  We finished up with a bath bomb and some wonderful herbal bath salts which I used when I got home that evening and there were just the ticket.

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Finally, as I was in the area I popped into Ripon for lunch on the way home!

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Love Gillie x

 

Repurpose challenge day three and four

Apologies for lack of post yesterday.  I hadn’t chickened out of the challenge, but I did get a call to ask if I was going to be at stitching.  Now faced with a day writing or a day knitting and chatting with friends I went to stitching instead.  This is the current (well one of several) work in progress.  I am a bit of a sucker for shaded yarn and this came from a gorgeous little yarn shop in Constanta in Romania.

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Back to business.  Yesterday’s challenge was to repurpose something from your recycling bin.  I hadn’t thought ahead here as Wednesday in bin day and my recycling bin was completely empty.  So this is a refresher course.  I have searched high and low for my photos and I was sure I had done a blog post on seed trays from cartons but they appear to have disappeared into the ether.  So as I have no seeds on the go at the moment you will have to do without pictures.  But it is very straightforward.

First take your fruit juice carton and lie it on its side with the pouring end towards you and the spout/hole on the right hand side.  Carefully cut out the side that is uppermost.  Bingo a small seed tray that stacks neatly on a greenhouse shelf or window sill and if you don’t need to reuse it, tear it up or shred it and pop it in the compost.

Another gardening repurpose is the plastic milk carton and tah dah!  The Hanging gardens of Brancepeth.

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Today’s challenge is something from the black hole.  My black hole is quite small now.  It is the kitchen basket and in theory is emptied once a week, well give or take!.

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And today I found these inside it.

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  1. Redeemed iTunes card.  This is now in the back of my wallet as my emergency de-icer.  It works very well, I always have it on me.  The last one I used was my co-op membership card but eventually the card disintegrated.  But it doesn’t matter if this one does.
  2. A bamboo skewer.  I have three daughters.  We all have long hair and my hair bobbles/pins etc. migrate into their rooms with startling regularity.  In the summer I prefer to have my hair up but often have to dig around to find who borrowed what.  I have just pinned my hair up with this.  As it is slightly bendy it is easy to weave in and out of the bun to hold it up.
  3. Old dog tag ring.  Now this was hard.  Until I looked up and noticed that my orchid needed some support.

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So what have you repurposed this week?

 

Love Gillie x