Friday, 30 April 2010

The Politics of Food

Given three candidates and three debates our family decided to match them up with three specially designed dinners.

So the first week we ate seafood paella, in honour of Nick Clegg's wife.

The second week we had spaghetti with smoked salmon and asparagus followed by Eton mess to represent David Cameron.

Last night Alan and I tucked in to haggis, neeps and tatties in celebration of Gordon Brown. The girls don't care for haggis, so they had French sausages, echoing the Auld Alliance. We would have had cranachan for dessert but there weren't any raspberries in the greengrocers. I guess we could have deep fried a few Mars bars instead!

I was pleasantly surprised by the debates, having feared that they would prove to be no more than a political talent show. In reality they raised a wide variety of issues (though sadly very little on the environment/international development/trade justice etc) and appear to have captured the interest of many people who would not otherwise have given the election a second thought.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Hothouse (contd)

Well, the promised photographs of my garden didn't materialise yesterday. I spent the morning in Leigh Woods with my daughter, who was taking photographs of natural forms for her GCSE art project, and the afternoon at the annual community choir convention at St George's Hall.

The woods were a refreshing change from the city - fresh shoots and buds and birdsong. The singing was uplifting and joyful. All in all a good day.

But back to the photographs:

This is our back yard from the first floor. I wasn't lying when I said it was small, was I?

The view would have been better without the clothes on the line but it was too good a drying day to miss. The pond is in the middle of the rockery and the mini greenhouse is just visible in the bottom right hand corner. The plan is to grown runner beans in containers at either end of the rockery wall and train them up along the fence. The hanging basket will hold trailing tomatoes. The ledges around the rockery are ideal perches for pots of herbs and shoots.

If you look very carefully you can see two of our four frogs in the under the foliage.

The pond is heaving with tadpoles after bumper deposits of of spawn. I don't think our pond will be able to support many more frogs so most of them are going to have to find somewhere else to live. In any case I'm hoping to find rather fewer slugs in our garden this year.

There isn't much to eat in the garden yet except rhubarb, which has already given us a a juicy crumble, and this vibrant chard. It's growing very happily in the rockery and is an example of how vegetables can be grown for aesthetic as well as functional purposes.

Finally, a photograph of our mini greenhouse, which is now much fuller than this.

Saturday, 24 April 2010


A fortnight ago I bought a mini greenhouse (£17 from Asda) which kick started my return to gardening after a long cold winter. I was on holiday and the weather was warm and sunny - perfect conditions for pottering around in our back yard.

I dug out my collection of seeds but had to bin most of them as they were seriously out of date. So it was down to the Riverside Garden Centre and back to Asda to replenish my stock. I used the River Cottage's Veg Patch Handbook to guide me to the best varieties, but also came across a number of seeds specifically designed for containers.

We don't have a big garden. If I discount the narrow strip between the rear extension and the wall between the houses (which is too shady for most plants) then we're left with an area measuring roughly 15 feet square. Two thirds of this is concreted over, with a raised rockery taking up the remaining third. My dream is to dig the whole garden up and start again but, in the meantime I rely on containers.

Once Alan had erected the greenhouse I soon filled it with dozens of pots sown with my new seeds. There were four kinds of tomatoes (Super Marmande, Balconi Red, Tumbling Tom Red and Harbinger), dwarf broad beans (The Sutton), peas (Hurst Green Shaft), runner beans (Polestar), squash (Cobnut), salad leaves, aubergine (Orlando), courgette (Firenze), chili pepper (Prairie Fire), basil (Italiano Classico), Thai basil, flatleaf parsley, coriander, sunflowers (Giant Single) and butterfly flowers. Then I sowed nastursiums (Jewel Mixed), calendula (Art Shades Mixed), beet (Cardeal) and borage in outside pots. I sowed more peas (ordinary ones meant for cooking) in a window pots to be eaten at shoot stage. In a large pot I planted our first lot of salad potatoes (Vales Emerald). The front of the house was not forgotten either as I sowed three window boxes with salad leaves and radishes (French Breakfast).

I've been following the BBC series Edible Gardens presented by Alys Fowler, which has been a source of inspiration. Alys taught me how to plant an indoor microgarden (instructions here) and I've now got broccoli and watercress growing in ice cream containers on our bedroom window.

Two weeks later most of the seeds I sowed during the Easter holidays are showing signs of life, with the noticeable exception of any of the tomatoes. So I've sown some more of all of them and am hoping they'll germinate more successfully. Alan also sowed some spinach (Bordeaux), French sorrel and fennel (Romanesco) in the rockery.

I've really enjoyed being out in the back garden whether I've been planting, tidying, checking on the progress of our multitude of tadpoles, hanging out the clothes, helping the girls with their homework, relaxing with a cup of tea, admiring our neighbour's glorious forsythia or eating our meals outdoors (the first of the year being a chorizo tortilla with wild garlic and nettle pesto on sourdough bread - delicious).

Roll on summer!

PS This post is crying out for a few photos. I'll get my camera out tomorrow and remedy the situation.