Monday, 25 January 2010

Stiff muscles and soggy potatoes

Saturday lunchtime Steve decided to go down the gym for half an hour but when he got back I decided to go for my own workout - on the allotment. I started by ripping up great carpet-like clumps of grass from under the raspberries. The conditions right now are perfect for this, with the roots unable to keep hold in the wet soil. Already warm from my exertions, I then tackled the parsnips. Last year I managed to grow 18 inch long parsnips, which caused huge problems when trying to dig them out of the soggy ground. Well, this year they are even longer. With much grunting and groaning I managed to wrestle a couple from the ground which were 2 foot long. Actually, they were slightly longer than that because the last tapering end of the roots snapped off.

Next it was time to dig up the last row of potatoes. These had been subjected to snow and frost so I wasn't holding out much hope. And indeed I was right, about 50% of them had turned into rubber balls, all squidgy and disgusting. A few others had damaged patches on them but were still usable and some were still perfect. I harvested enough to last the week but that is it now, end of homegrown potatoes until June. Ah... June... new potatoes... what a difference harvesting experience that will be in comparison to this soggy, sticky, slightly depressing job.
Back home I turned some of the potatoes into chips to go with our fish. Over the next few months I shall increase our in take of pasta, rice and bread and demote potatoes to a bit part until new potatoes are available.

On Sunday Steve headed off for another workout at the gym and whilst he was gone I had an experiment with a recipe to use up a couple jars of plum jam by making it into a crumble cake - something with the flavour of plum crumble but that can be eaten like a cake and without the need to heat it up and pour custard on it.

Plum and Cinnamon Crumble Cake

For the crumble topping
2 oz butter
3 oz wholemeal flour
2 oz oats
1 oz oat bran
1 oz sunflower seeds
2 oz light muscovado sugar

For the cake

5 oz plain flour
2 oz wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
7 fl oz double cream
8 oz plum jam (or plum and cinnamon jam)

Grease and line a 8 inch square cake tin and preheat oven to 180°C, gas 4. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan then add the other crumble topping ingredients to it and stir until well combined and still crumbly. In another bowl, sift the flour, raising agents and cinnamon then add the salt and sugar. Beat the eggs and cream together in a jug then pour into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon this mixture into the cake tin and level out. Dollop the jam on top of this layer and spread out, mixing slightly with the top layer of cake mix. Finally, sprinkle over the crumble layer and press down lightly. Bake for 40 minutes then cool in the tin and cut into pieces once cool.

Variation: substitute the oat bran with ground almonds and the plum jam with cherry jam.

Once this was cooked and cooled I decided to tackle the front garden for my daily workout. Anyone looking at my garden would think I don't like gardening much because it is a bit untidy and could do with some serious attention. I think maybe I need to make a sign, like those keyrings that say "my other car is a Porshe", only saying, "my other garden is an allotment". I have an amazing herb garden in the front garden. I say amazing because I planted it about 10 years ago and it is still going strong. The bay tree is as tall as me and then it steps down to a large rosemary, then to a sage and there is oregano and savory in there somewhere too. The whole garden is surrounded by a low lavender hedge which in the summer is something of a bee magnet. The whole lot needed a trim, not least so the postman could find the way to the front door, so I got out of the shears and set to. I don't use the shears very often so those particular muscles don't usually get that kind of exercise and after about half an hour my arms were beginning to tremble and today I'm suffering from stiff muscles. On the plus side, I had filled up my usually stinky green wheelie bin with beautifully scented bay and rosemary twigs.

Later that afternoon my step daughter arrived for an unscheduled visit. She hadn't planned to stay for dinner but as she was saying vague things about possibly opening a can of soup for tea when she got home I invited her to stay. We were already planning to have Chinese crispy duck and pancakes for dinner but I figured I could just expand the quantity of rice and stir-fry to provide her with a meal. Being vegan I knew she wouldn't want to join in with the duck, which is just as well as I don't like to share when it comes to crispy duck! So in the end she had a big plate of rice, rice noodles, stir-fried vegetables and a couple of vegetable spring rolls. I did check to see if the prawn crackers were vegan but you know what, they actually contained 7% prawn! It's not as daft as it sounds as chicken flavoured crisps and some forms of instant gravy are vegan! I was pleased that she went home with a proper meal insider her and pleased too that I managed to pull a vegan meal out of the air at a moments notice.

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