Recipes

Beetroot and chocolate cake

So with our abundant crop of beetroot I’ve been reading about different ways to use beetroot. And as fate would have it when I went to a cafe recently there was a lovely looking beetroot and chocolate cake. Now it seems to be very on trend to include vegetables in your cakes. Carrot cake has obviously been popular for a number of years but I’ve also seen lots of recipes recently for courgette cake, parsnip cake, sweet potato cake and even spinach cake. Why is this so popular? Is it that because people see vegetables in cakes they feel less guilty about eating them? Are they (or do they seem) healthier? Is everyone suffering from a glut of homegrown veggies that they need to use up? Or are desperate parents trying to find novel ways to help their toddlers get their five a day (or is it supposed to be seven a day now, I lose track). Whatever everyone else’s reason, I’m trying beetroot cake as I’ve got lots of beetroot. Now I’ve never been a fan of carrot cake (and have never tried any other vegetable cake) as the idea of vegetables in cakes really puts me off. But I’ve been assured that you can’t really taste the beetroot in a beetroot and chocolate cake so I’m going to test it out when I have friends come round this week. 

There are loads of recipes out there for chocolate and beetroot cake so I’ve gone with one which has been recommended by a Facebook gardening group. It also has the beetroot raw and grated which appealed to me more than including it cooked. I have to say I was slightly (very) nervous about how it was going to turn out whilst mixing as it looked pretty disgusting. 


However, when it came out it looked like, well, a normal chocolate cake.



I was very worried about the taste still and wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to let my friends try it without sampling it first, as I pride myself on my ability to produce an alright tasting sponge. So J and I cut ourselves a piece each and quickly covered it in chocolate spread (I’ll do a proper icing for the rest tomorrow but will have to wait for it to be stone cold first). 


And the verdict? Totally amazing. Really moist. I coudn’t taste the beetroot, although J said that he could. It was light (surprising when it was cooking for nearly an hour) and had a lovely rich chocolate taste without being too sickly. It’s definitely one to try again and has helped, a bit, to use up some of our beetroot. 

Lazy beds · Vegetable growing

Potato storage and preserving

Now because of timings in creating our lazy beds we ended up planting all of our potatoes at the same time. We had six varieties: red duke of York (first earlies), Charlotte (second earlies), Maris Peer (second earlies), Maris Piper (early maincrop), Purple Majesty (maincrop) and King Edward (large maincrop). Now the theory is that they should be ready in sequence, which they haven’t all been, and even if they do spread themselves out a bit more, we had 1kg of seed potatoes of each variety so we’re going to end up with a lot of potatoes. An awful lot. We started pulling them up the other week but to be honest we didn’t really think it through and just started pulling up those where the foliage was dying back. We did stop but not before we had a vast haul. My wonderful husband then proceeded to help out (as good husband always do) and started cleaning them ready for use. 


It wasn’t until later when I did a bit of reading about homegrown potatoes that I realised we probably hadn’t done the right thing with our harvest if we were wanting a good storage period. The best thing to do is to pull up the plant and harvest any potatoes that are attached. 


Then ensure any potatoes still in the ground are still well covered with soil and leave for a couple of weeks for the skins to set. This will make them firmer and better able to withstand storage. Instead, some people, will harvest and let them dry out in the sun. I’ve opted to leave them in the ground. 


Now you can, in theory, harvest just what is needed when it’s needed. Or, if you are concerned about possible pest damage, then harvest and store in a dark, cool place. Most people opt for brown paper bags or hessian sacks for this purpose. Then only wash when you are ready to use. 

When it comes to preserving potatoes then the freezer is your best friend. Potatoes can’t be frozen raw so they need to be processed in some way first. I’m a big fan of my freezer and tend to do lots of batch cooking for my freezer. So far with our first harvest of potatoes I have done some roast potatoes: parboiled and tossed in flour and lard, then open frozen before bagging, they can then be popped straight into the oven from frozen to crisp up. They make delicious roasties and it’s easy to just take out the number you need. 


We’ve also tried doing a potato bake: sliced potato and onion in layers in a dish, then covered in stock (I prefer chicken stock for the taste), season (I use salt, pepper and a little thyme from the garden) then bake until the potatoes are cooked (about 40 minutes). We used purple majesty potatoes for this and have frozen in the dish and covered with foil. When we’re going to use it we will take it out the day before use (or on the day, but then it will take longer to cook) and cover with a sprinkling of cheese and bake for 15 mins. It doesn’t look particularly appetising now, but I promise it is delicious and fairly healthy (without the cheese). 


I also love to do a few baked potatoes in the oven when I have space then they can be frozen in foil and either defrosted in the microwave (remove the foil) or the oven relatively quickly for a proper baked potato taste in a rush. What does anyone else do to use up potatoes? I need some more inspiring ideas. 

Fruit growing

The blueberry

Yes, you are reading that title correctly. We have three blueberry plants which between them have produced the sum total of one blueberry. One solitary blueberry. Not exactly going to make a meal.


I mean granted it was very beautifully formed. I let C pick it (they are her favourite fruit) but even she was disappointed with it’s lack of companions; “I like more blueberries”. Well tough luck for this year I’m afraid. I’m hoping that it is because it’s their first year in proper soil (blueberries need acidic soil) that we have a lack of fruit as the foliage has been really flourishing. We’ve been taking care to water them in rainwater to maintain the PH balance too. I’m not sure what else to do to increase productivity?

Craft · Professionals

Let there be light

Our outdoor electrics have finally been commissioned (I think that’s the correct term). That means that our caravan hook up in the field is ready to go.

 It means out outdoor lamppost by the patio is working.


It means our outdoor electrical sockets are working.


But most importantly my cabin has light and power.


It’s been a long time coming but worth it. I think household chores will be put on hold for a bit whilst I spend every evening sewing! 

Dog

Jessie’s first night

So Jessie went into her crate and went to sleep herself last night whilst J and I were watching TV. We took advantage of that and after J took her outside for a wee, we shut her in and went up to bed. She didn’t cry out and seemed to have settled nicely. Now before we got Jessie, J and I agreed (or more rather I insisted) that any night disturbances were up to him. This was for many reasons; firstly, as J was the one who was so desperate for a dog; secondly, as I sleep with earplugs as I’m a light sleeper; and finally, because I did all the night shifts with C (to be fair to him, that was because she was breastfed and give him his due he did help with middle of the night poos if required). We’d been advised by the breeder not to go down to her in the night. She’s not been attended to in the night for a bit now with the litter and won’t need feeding in the night so she should be fine. Well, she’s understandably going to be a bit lonely in the night as she’s used to having her mum and fellow pups there, but she doesn’t need anything else. 

Now according to J, Jessie woke up at 5:24am and cried for a bit, C also woke up and started to sing back at Jessie. They all dropped back off and when J got up at 7 there was a fair bit of mess in the cage. She had her breakfast and by the time C and I got up at about 7:40, J was still waiting outside for her to do her business. Today has mainly been spent constantly trying to predict when she needs the toilet and rushing outside with her. She was introduced to her first other dog (that is fine at the age as long as you’re sure the other dog has been vaccinated) and she played really nicely, if rather excitedly. 


We’re following Kennel Club guidelines about introducing her to as many different types of people/animals/situations whilst she is still young. 16 weeks is considered by most as the cut off time when her big learning and developmental phase will have passed. This is referred to in most of the literature as socialisation. From our point of view, we want Jessie to be a family dog who is comfortable around people and animals and not only fits in with, but enhances our current lifestyle. This afternoon we have some more friends visiting and I’m hopefully going to get some more of our friends, with their toddlers, round next week as I think early introductions will benefit them all. First up though, J has just taken her to the vet for her vaccinations so C and I are going to take advantage and get the Duplo out.

Dog

Welcome home Jessie

So today was the big day. The day we collected our new puppy Jessie from the breeder. Our last morning dog free started well, the three of us sitting in the lounge watching The Secret Life of Pets (great movie by the way, highly recommend it) and drinking our coffees (well frothy milk for C but she calls it coffee). C was of course wearing the obligatory dress, this morning’s offering was a Belle dress from Beauty and the Beast. In my head tomorrow morning will be identical but with Jessie sitting next to C, in reality I think tomorrow morning will be spent clearing up dog mess and doubting our decision after night of being kept awake from dog whining. We made the decision for J to collect Jessie by himself so that if she was distressed in the car C didn’t have to see it and could have a positive first interaction in her own home. J was due to pick her up at 2pm, although as there was horrendous traffic on the M5 he didn’t end up getting back to us until just after 4pm. 


The plan, which thankfully we managed to execute, was for him to carry her straight from the car to her pee post in the garden for some private time and then lead her into the house through the living room door. There C and I would be waiting to give her cuddles and offer her toys. As soon as C saw her she was ridiculously excited and wanted to hold her lead and give her a walk (she has been ‘walking’ her hobbyhorse for the past couple of weeks with the lead around the living room). Although both were cautious at first C was soon stroking Jessie and Jessie was trying to play with C. We’re trying to crate train Jessie from the start so we are locking her in there when we have our meals, we don’t want a dog who begs at the table. J had watched her whilst I prepped our tea (very lazy tea of fish fingers, potato waffles and sweet corn so I could focus on Jessie too). When I was serving up J put Jessie in her crate and she whined for pretty much the whole of our dinner, which C didn’t like as she kept asking why Jessie was crying. You have to make sure that she stops whining before you go in so she doesn’t think that if she keeps doing it you will come back. 

She was pleased to see us when she was let out, although it has made me anxious for how she will be tonight. Soon it was time for her dinner; she’s currently on three meals a day, 7am, noon and 6pm with each feed of 55g. Thankfully she loves her food. I insisted we took her immediately outside. J stayed outside with her for a bit but she did nothing so he brought her back in. A couple of minutes later she started sniffing around and circling, clearly getting ready. I picked her up and managed to get most of it on the puppy pad. Thankfully J was to hand to clean up. As C has now gone to bed, J and I are watching a film and Jessie is having a snooze in her crate, door open, with J lying next to her. This is the type of evening we’d envisaged having with her. Though i am dreading tonight. I’ll update tomorrow with how it goes.

Dog

To puppy proof or not puppy proof

So when we had C we didn’t really baby proof. It wasn’t that we were bad parents (I promise) it was a conscious decision, but anyway, back to the puppy. One of the great things about getting a puppy now is that we’re going to be ripping this house to bits so it doesn’t really matter too much about damage. Well that isn’t true. We obviously don’t want a puppy to chew our house to bits but the odd accident on the carpet isn’t going to bother us too much. So whilst we are not planning on encouraging or allowing Jessie to destroy things we don’t really want to have to remove everything precious from our house or get child locks on the cupboards. We didn’t have a stair gate for C and thankfully we won’t need one for Jessie either as we have a door at the bottom of our staircase so we just need to remember to shut it (we’ve decided that Jessie is going to be a downstairs only dog). 

The big question for me is how much should I declutter downstairs. We are a family who tend to have a fair amount of clutter, not least because we don’t have enough storage space which isn’t damp. C has a lovely beanbag chair which is going up to her room and I may take a few more of her toys up to her room. My knitting basket which sits by my chair will probably move up on to the window sill for the time being. But what will a puppy really try to eat? Or should that really be what won’t a puppy eat!?! We ran into a dog owner the other day who said that Labrador retriever puppies will eat everything, floors, walls, furniture, anything. And I know that our golden retriever which was a puppy when I was born chewed through the walk right down to the brickwork. So I figure we need to keep an eye on her and as much as possible keep her occupied and away from anything precious. I guess the plus side is that if she chews the walls back to the brickwork then that will actually mean the builders don’t have to do that! 


I guess when she arrives later today we’ll know whether we made the right decision. Hopefully before she does too much damage, I mean how can anything so cute do damage?

Vegetable growing

A trip to the garden centre

I love garden centres. They have so much more than just garden stuff in them nowadays. We are lucky where we are that we are surrounded by several really good sized ones. Yesterday C and I decided to head out for a morning trip to one of my favourites. We did actually have a reason to go (I promise) as we wanted to buy our Christmas potatoes. Yes that’s right it’s already the time to start thinking about Christmas. Well in gardening terms it is. When I said to C that we were going out to buy Christmas potatoes she immediately launched into a discussion about Santa and how he gave her one present. I took advantage of the situation to remind her that you only get presents from Santa if you’re good. She did say she was going to be a good girl and that the present she would like is pink shoes (we’re going through a very girly phase at the moment). I guess I need to start planning for Christmas presents as well as Christmas potatoes. 

Anyhow I digress, we were shopping for Christmas potatoes. Christmas potatoes are potatoes that are sown in summer to be harvested from November onwards. They should be sown in bags and then when it get’s cold they can be moved inside a greenhouse. As we still have an abundance of potatoes to currently harvest, I’m going to wait until late August and mid September to plant these to delay harvesting as long as possible so we have time to use up our summer harvest. I selected two different varieties of seed potatoesto try; one that we know well and have grown this year already, Charlotte and one which is new to us, Pentland Javelin. Both are varieties of new potatoes which are the only type you can grow well in the UK for Christmas harvest. Now I have heard of people using normal shop bought potatoes which have started to sprout instead of buying seed potatoes. I’m not a fan of this I’m afraid. When you buy seed potatoes (the potatoes which you use to start off your potato plants) you are paying for disease and virus free products. They should also be pest free. Whereas your supermarket leftovers could contain anything which could then infect your soil which is bad news. Also, from what I’ve read, seed potatoes tend to be much more prolific than any leftover potatoes tend to be. Besides which, I like trying different varieties instead of the same ol’ limited variety offered in supermarkets. Maybe I’m in the minority though? What does anyone else do, seed potatoes or sprouted leftovers?


 

Reviews

A trip up North

So as you know last week C and I went to stay in the family caravan in Bamburgh. It is a place that I have fond memories of from my childhood and although the area has gone through a few changes since my youth many of it’s best attractions still remain. We weren’t alone for the whole trip as we had my dad and his wife visiting for the first two nights and then my mum visiting for the next two nights. This trip I was plagued by torrential rain at the start so on our first day we went swimming in the morning at a newly built spa complex in a local village called Lucker. It is part of a bigger building project and there are a number of cottages to rent, a pub/restaurant which we ate at one night and a pizzeria. I can’t remember what the place looked like beforehand, the pub had certainly been there for some while, but the new renovation is exceptional. The pub serves high quality locally sourced food at reasonable prices. The spa complex has been built with ultimate luxury in mind. The pool is heated to a good temperature and there is a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and waterfall showers into the pool. There are also loungers on the side and a gym upstairs (although we didn’t try this out). There is also an extensive range of treatments on offer as well as spa days. I highly recommend anyone staying in the area to check it out for a bit of relaxation and a break from the busyness that can plague seaside resorts during peak season. 

During our trip we also went for fish and chips in Seahouses where C and I shared a portion of the north east’s finest. 


We visited our favourite bookshop in Alnwick, Barter Books and got a good selection of books which will last us a while. We also treated ourselves to lunch at their cafe where they have delicious hot and cold treats and meals with generous portions and reasonable prices. 

It does look like we spent all of our time eating food. But we also did a lot of pottering around encountering a lovely toy shop in Alnwick where I managed to get a couple of games for C for her birthday. If the weather had been nicer we would have probably spent all of our time on the beach but actually it was nice to have an excuse to go shopping and eat cake. The diet starts Monday!

Craft

Wool storage

So I have one storage unit in the cabin exclusively for wool and yarn related bits and bobs. The top six cubbyholes are just wool, sorted by colour and I’ve tried to stack them as best as possible so that I can clearly see what I have and what I don’t. The bottom right cubbyhole has a couple of bags with all their materials needed in them and the left hand cubbyhole has my knitting bag. I need to find some way to nicely store and display my knitting needles. Most of my needles are what are known as circular needles, which are basically two wooden needles joined by a plastic loop, but I do still own some traditional bamboo and metal needles. I have made a simple needle case before but it really isn’t substantial enough to hold all my needles, and I would like some kind of easy way to have all of them neatly stored and yet clear to see the different gauges rather than having to root around amongst all of them. One of the things that I’ve found very frustrating about moving into the cottage was that all of my craft bits were boxed up and stowed away in various places. 


I figure I can have my traditional needles in vase of kinds on top of the shelves. But that still leaves the dilemma of my circular needles so I think I’ll have to take to Pinterest to find some inspiration. Also looking at all my yarn together I feel like I need to expand my collection somewhat. Both C and J have quite sensitive skin so I tend to avoid using high wool content in my makes and instead go for more delicate or artificial fibres. My collection has lots of bits and pieces of yarn left over from projects but I could do with some really nice yarn for myself in there. Something which feels lovely and soft and I can use to make a cardigan for myself to snuggle in when it comes to winter. I feel a big shop coming on!