What I’m going to grow in 2015

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I had a pretty successful growing year last year, but made a few mistakes with what I grew. My theme for 2014 was ‘grow stuff which is expensive in the shops’, which was a nice idea on paper.

For the sixth year running, I used an entire raised bed (50% of my growing space) to attempt pumpkins, which (for the sixth year running) grew to the size of an egg then withered away. I love pumpkins, but 2014 confirmed that we’ll never be mother and child. As a result of this, I lost an enormous amount of growing space, given that each pumpkin takes up a minimum of 1m squared.

I grew globe artichokes, which looked magnificent and tasted immense, but they look a tremendous amount of effort, for a very small return (I grew four).

Celeriac grew, and survived winter, but the resulting vegetables were tiny. This was a big shame. I did all I could for those boys, but they just didn’t deliver.

I am 99.9% sure that I am at fault for these failures, due to not watering enough/watering too much/not feeding enough/not feeding appropriately etc etc. Therefore, as the sort of gardener who stubbornly prefers to experiment, wing it and find my own way, I’ve absolutely no right to complain. I have to take what comes.

2015 has been officially named the year of frugality in our house. We’re having an extension built and are planning a trip to New York, so we’re squirrelling away, staying in and basically being incredibly boring for the next six months. With this in mind, I’ve decided that growing this year will be all about going back to basics. I’m going to grow the stuff we need and use on a daily basis. I’m going to sow monthly, to ensure an ongoing supplies of the staples. I’m going to grow in bulk, store things away in my shed and hope the mice don’t catch wind of my secret supplies.

One of the raised beds is going to be my salad bed – full of a readily replenished supply of radishes, lettuces, pakchoi and onions. In pots I’m going to have potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. In the other bed, I’m going to for hardy staples which can hack the colder months and keep us supplied through winter – kale, chard, leeks, broad beans and beets. This year I’m going to beat the squirrels to the hazelnuts on our hazel tree, freeze the surplus raspberries instead of leaving them to wither on the plant, and dry as many of the herbs as I can. All sounds very optimistic doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to blogging about how it all pans out.

Ready and waiting

Primed with compost and ready for good times ahead.

It’s cheeeeeesssseeeemaaaaaaaaaaas!

Is this love?
Is this love?

**** Caution: this blog post contains small elements of Scrooginess and me being a bit of a Scrooge. It doesn’t last though. ****

Well, despite the fact that it isn’t actually very cold outside and I’ve not yet watched Elf, it’s crept up on us, once again.

I always spend a few days in the build up to Christmas over-analysing it, trying to understand what it’s all about. Why do I have to do it? And how did all the component parts actually come together? What does a fir tee have to do with a rich fruit pudding and why do we need them in order to celebrate the birth of a man who apparently wasn’t even born in December? I always tie myself in knots about it. This utter ridiculousness has afflicted me from quite a young age, as I was brought up to question everything. Then last year my husband said something along the lines of; ‘just chill out and enjoy it, it’s a tradition. Like giving presents on someone’s birthday or toasting people’s health. No-one knows exactly why we do these things, we just do them because they’re nice things to do.’ And he was right. SO, as from last year, I chilled out. I dropped the Scrooge act and instead begun a one-woman mission to usurp Mrs Claus as Queen of Christmas. This year, I actually bought a tree. It’s small, but I have one and it’s lovely. I am ABSOLUTELY FINE with the fact that I have a living tree covered in plastic trinkets in my sitting room for no reason other than ‘that’s what you do in December.’ I’m fine with it. Totally. Trees in the living room. It’s all good. It’s the new me. I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

I love the cinnamon, the collective glow and the wooly scarves. I love the guilt free gin and tonics at 12pm. I love using ‘but it’s Christmas!’ as a quasi-legitimate excuse for my (year-round) inability to say ‘no’ to ANYTHING. But, rather predictably, the most important and loved part of Christmas in our home, is food.

This year, with the exception of Christmas Day, we’ll be holing up in our house until January 2nd. I have stocked up accordingly. We’re all set. Food will dictate our days. New meals will be invented, such as ‘third lunch’ and ‘pre-breakfast’. Our daily pattern of movement will be this: bedroom, kitchen, living room, kitchen, living room, kitchen, living room, kitchen, living room, bedroom. This will repeat for 11 days. And then we’ll go back to work; fatter, no wiser, but bloody happy. And fatter. And less wise. And most likely with breathing difficulties (me) or gout (husband.)

To me, the most important thing about Christmas food is cheese. That’s why I called this post ‘It’s Cheesemas’, but I put lots of extra ‘e’s’ and ‘a’s’ in it, so it sounded like Noddy Holder was shouting it at you. It was meant to be funny. Won’t be good for the SEO.

Yes. Cheese. It’s important to me. Every 6 months or so, me and my husband moot the idea of moving abroad for a few years, while we’re still childless and selfish. But then we always shudder to a halt at the inevitable show stopper: ‘what about the cheese?’ Could we find a rich, tangy, wincingly sour cheddar in Jakarta? If I had only $5 and 20 minutes, could I find goats cheese in Denver? We will never move. We are so, so lucky to live in a part of the world where excellent cheese is cheap and freely available. And as such, it pretty much rules my life.

As with many things foodie, there is some sort of pointless etiquette one is supposed to follow when it comes to having a cheeseboard. I recall some of the rules:

  • No more than 5 cheeses
  • Only include one blue
  • Don’t cut the ends off the cheese

There are other rules as well, but they’re not important. The only thing important right now is that we have the cheese and that no-one can take it from us. We only do this once a year, and so we should do it properly.

Here’s our cheeseboard:

  • Montgomery cheddar (I still haven’t tried this, but several people have recommended it)
  • Wensleydale with cranberries (it’s illegal to live in Yorkshire and not have this in your Christmas fridge. ILLEGAL. You still have time.)
  • Roule (wrong, wrong, wrong. But right, right, right. Spread on Hovis crackers. Jesus.)
  • Taleggio (a bit of Mediterranean sunshine from the amazing Abel and Cole)
  • Yorkshire Blue and Harrogate Blue (from the miraculous and fabulously local Shepherd’s Purse dairy. Two of the greatest blue cheeses on earth.)
  • Cotswold herb brie (another Abel and Cole treat. Looking forward to this on its own with some fresh tomato and watercress.)
  • Stilton (did I mention it’s Christmas? This one’s a no-brainer.)

These cheeses shall sustain us through the days ahead. There will be crackers, there will be salads, there will be tarts (of the puff pastry, not saucy lady variety.) I’ll tweet or blog about some of the upcoming cheesey combinations, if it lasts long enough. When there is lots of cheese in the house, I am prone to doing late night Nigella-runs to the fridge. I’ll observe NO etiquette, as I snap off and inhale corners of crumbly stilton. I can be there for up to 10 minutes, leaning against the humming fridge door, moaning with dairy-induced delight. It’s once a year. It’s how it should be.

I will doubtless talk more about cheese in the coming weeks. However, tomorrow, I’m having a bake and booze fest. We’re having family over on Boxing Day and so I’m making:

  • Stilton and cranberry bread
  • Chorizo and sunblushed tomato bread
  • Chestnut and chocolate cake
  • Limoncello (I’ve found a recipe which doesn’t require you to steep it for months)
  • Probably something else.

As such, I’ll be blogging about the results – whatever they may be. And I’ll share the recipes, if they work!

Merry Cheesemas, one and all!

Peace and love x