29 May, 2006
There's been so much rain that my plant labels are verging on the illegible. Covered in mud spattered by the force of falling raindrops, I have a real fear that I'll get my radishes and leeks confused – if it ever warms up enough for either of them to grow.
After a quick check on the plot between showers with little darling #2 on Saturday, I went down with the petrol strimmer on Sunday to blitz the perimeter weeds. The ground is too wet underfoot to do much else and I'm well aware that I'm the sort of allotment neighbour for whom an ASBO for weed propogation is only a wink away. One of the effects of my novice status is that I often choose to be at the allotments at different times to my neighbours – I haven't learn't the prime times yet. Universally friendly they may be, but I see very little of them – an observation particulary true of the intimidatingly neat plot next door. I've been told that this is managed by the retired vicar of the local parish, but I've only seen him a couple of times and he's been a bit short on the cheery wave which constitutes the entry-level greeting down there. Anyway, he was there on Sunday so I was feeling rather guilty at disturbing his peace and quiet as I roared away and laughed manically at the weeds falling before my enthusuastic stimming. When I'd had my lust sated and the perimeter restored to respectability, I spluttered the motor to a halt, caught his eye and walked up to him in the restored silence calling an apology for all the row. I needn't have worried, as the cloth of this particular man seems to have spread to his hearing. He cupped a be-soiled palm behind his ear and bellowed 'what?' at me before grinning broadly and shaking my hand 'You'll have to shout – I'm hard of hearing'. So much for my guilty concience.
Forecast is improving, so there may be some proper gardening to do soon.
24 May, 2006
No, I don't grow it yet but it's in the plan. Hey, it's my first growing season, give me a chance. I do, however, drive past J.L. Lampitt's farm once a week for work at the moment. I love asparagus and Lampitt's is good enough and cheap enough that I may take a while before I get round to producing my own.
Eating it is a challenge recently solved. The Line of Beauty has just made it to TV here and there is a lovely scene in the book which I missed in the adaptation where the principal character, Nick, is eating asparagus with his high-born hosts. The social differences between them are demonstrated by them tucking in with their fingers while he tackles the spears with a knife and fork. He has my sypathies. I've never understood the finger thing or the tendency to drown the lovely veggie in butter or Hollandaise sauce. The brilliant Marcella Hazan – surely the source for half of Jamie Oliver's recipes and all of the River Cafe's – has a lovely sauce which she does with home made Cannelloni in 'Marcella's Kitchen' and even more simply with macaroni in another book. Even the little darlings lick their lips. This also fuelled me around the Isle of Wight on Sunday but don't let that put you off.
900g asparagus, 90g butter, 250ml water, 170g boiled unsmoked ham, grated parmesan to taste
milk, butter, flour salt, nutmeg
homemade pasta (or dried macaroni on a weekday evening)
Trim the asparagus and place in a pan with the butter water and a little salt. Cover and cook untill tender but firm. Roughly chop the ham and the cooked asparagus in a food processor – big lumps are good. Make the bechamel and mix with the asapragus and ham. Add the parmesan. If you're making Cannelloni, save half the sauce to pour over the top before baking. Either stuff your Cannelloni or combine the sauce with the macaroni and pop it in a hot oven for 15 – 20 minutes.
17 May, 2006
The allotment part of this began on holiday last summer. I said to the lady of the house that I was fed up with the pap that the Supermarkets offer us instead of vegetables – she agreed. I said that I was also fed up with our veg-box supplier who is clearly well-intentioned, but just ‘aint cutting it, and she agreed with that too. We decided together that there was no prospect of growing vegetables at home. Our garden isn’t big enough and sits on top of a limestone hills which means that two inches under the grass sits more rubble than my back is up to moving – digging the flower borders nearly killed me. So I said that the obvious answer was an allotment. She was clearly delighted but also became the first in a long line of people to tell me that I won’t have the time and that I am mad.
After some hard work on the internet and telephone with more layers of local Government than I previously knew existed, I found myself wandering around parts of our nearest big village with one of the little darlings looking for an allotment site which I hadn’t previously known existed. We tracked it down next to the cemetery – good for the soil, I guess, and found the Parish Council office by asking at the Post Office. It feels appropriate to the tradition of allotments that a journey into working one begins with me finding my way around the local community. I took the advice when they said that half a plot would do fine to start with but felt that they were being rather soppy and underestimating me. I paid my annual rent – £5 – and from September 2005, the thing was ours.
I began by digging it. It felt very big at this point. I felt rather foolish when my hairdresser said that the ‘no dig method’ would have made life easier but felt that my purist approach was more admirable. I made some grand plans and rather disappointedly left it in peace for the winter.