Thursday, 18 March 2010


It's a beautiful day outside again, winter seeming to have finally given up its firm grasp on us, and I have a terrible craving.

What I want, what I really really want, is to be outside. Ideally with Greta. She needs to get to know the grass and the mud properly, she needs to stomp around in the flowers, pick them, no doubt try to eat them, shove them down her clothes so I find them in her nappy next time I change her (I really cannot figure out how she gets food down there whenever she eats!). And I really want to get my hands into the earth.

Our new home, however lovely it is, has a slight drawback. Although our balcony is huge, it is on an east-west angle, facing not quite south. So we do get the sun a lot of the day- but we have a vast sycamore just at an angle which ensures that from early to mid-afternoon, it's in the shade. Then the roof covers it, and that also keeps it in the shade.

In our last apartment, our balcony was about a quarter of the size, but it wasn't covered, faced due south, and was baking in the sun all summer. I grew tomatoes out there one summer, and they were so happy that I had to promise Peter not to do it again- we couldn't actually get out onto the balcony without pushing branches away from the door! I had eight plants, and except for one (Golden Grape, I think it was called), which, of course, was the tastiest one and the least producing, they grew to over two metres tall.

Imagine a balcony crowded with seven vast tomato plants, tapering down to pots that ended up looking tiny, with so many branches that each pot had at least three canes stuffed into it to support the plants...

And imagine all the tomatoes! I had as many different types as I had plants. I remember White Wonder, Red Plum, Yellow Plum, something Zebra, a purply-black one...

But it really was a bit much, even though they were delicious to munch on, and I did end up making different sauces with each one, including tasting notes so that I'd remember the next time I planted tomatoes which ones worked well. I bought the seeds from Tomato Bob, by the way- a sampler pack.

I'd do that again like a shot, but our balcony really isn't ideal for tomatoes. It doesn't really seem to be ideal for anything (although my olive tree, cherished for five summers and winters, now seems to be quite happy, and the Christmas tree is also much happier in the semi-shade). And I can't put up "window" boxes until the guys have come to repaint and repair the scratches and dents made by the scaffolding whilst it was all being built. So I'm thinking it could be a bit of a sad, bare summer out there...

If it weren't for herbs. I'm thinking thyme, rosemary, sage, definitely chives... I'm thinking lavender might also do well, and I do love lavender.

At least I'm getting rid of my spring fever in other ways- yesterday evening, whilst making blood orange jelly (which doesn't seem to have set very well- I have a small tupperware of it in the fridge and will see tonight if the cold has helped it solidify. If not, I'm going to have to boil it again), inspired by noticing that Apartment Therapy had a series on de-cluttering your kitchen... well, I de-cluttered a few drawers, resolutely taking out things that may have been gifts, but, quite honestly, are never going to be used. Things like the tool that cores and slices your apple into 8 in one movement- it always hurts my wrists to use it, and, unless the apple is absolutely perfectly aligned internally, you always end up having to trim a few of the slices anyway.

I also got rid of a couple of bamboo steamer baskets, which I've never used, and probably never will. A mini, battery-operated whisk. Who needs that? A mysterious piece of wood from the Philippines that my mother bought there and gave to me for Christmas, gleefully telling me she had no idea what it was for. A silicone brush for pastry- I have four, I don't need that many! Two for inside, one large one for the barbecue. And a few other bits and pieces.

On the other hand, I really need to get myself a new Oxo Good Grips vegetable peeler. I used to have two of these, and they've both vanished, to my disgust. It's the only peeler I've ever had that I could peel 2 kilos of potatoes with without getting blisters. Unfortunately, I can only find the Y peeler here, and I don't like Y peelers. I'm going to have to send off for a couple of them- and I'm currently browsing the Lakeland website.

I love Lakeland. They have lovely stuff. In particular these metal pie tins, which I really wish I already had, as Peter is working from home tomorrow and his Aunt is coming to keep an eye on Greta, and I need to make sure that there is lunch ready for all of them. What does this have to do with the pie tins? Well, I was thinking that I also need to continue to work through the contents of the freezer... and there's masses of puff pastry in there, as well as chicken, and a chicken pot pie could be an option.

Not that I've ever made a chicken pot pie, but these pie tins are inspiring me!

Either that, or the fact that I was reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's Cross Creek on the train this morning has me thinking about "traditional American dishes". I also have a copy of her Cross Creek Cookery book, and that, no doubt, will have a recipe in it. As, of course, will the Joy of Cooking, not that I'm that enthused about the latter, as I find the American system of cups and spoons for measuring things incredibly annoying. It's alright to measure something like milk in a cup, but butter?!? How on earth are you supposed to pack butter into a cup and get the same amount twice?

Give me a little weighing machine any day. Thank goodness there are assorted tools online that can convert "two cups of flour" to however many grams that is.

Back to Cross Creek, though, the fact that my copy is a first (UK) edition, and that my copy of Cross Creek Cookery is a rather garish modern paperback rather has me tempted to go on abebooks (again!) and find myself an old copy of the latter to go with the former!

Get thee behind me, abebooks. Thou art evil for my wallet and my lust for old, classic cookbooks. Deliver us not into temptation... Especially considering that I'm still trying to track down the copy of the Scandinavian Cookbook that my mother used to have and which vanished. Personally, I suspect my elder sister has it. The problem is, we're not quite sure what the actual name of the book was!

This weekend, there will be a trip to the DIY store, and much earth and seedlings will be bought. I must measure up the balustrade for window boxes, even if I can't put any up yet.

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