Welcome to my blog all about the things I love to grow and cook. You'll find a collection of seasonal gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan-friendly recipe posts, as well as a round up of my gardening throughout the year. I wish you good reading, happy cooking and perfect planting!
As another month draws to a close, it’s been a rather wet and dreary end to the season of Autumn here in central Scotland. Photographically speaking, there have been very few blue-sky days to capture the warm, glowing colours of this time of the year. Nevertheless, I have a few images which I hope convey the natural glory of the month just passing.
I took these photos a couple of weeks ago whilst out on a walk along the local riverbank. Even though the sky was a dull grey and the waters looked cool and steely, the colours of the leaves still clinging to the trees looked spectacular.
Back home in the garden at the same time, the Japanese Maple (Acer) tree was ablaze with glowing yellow leaves. But following a few heavy downpours and some strong winds, the last of the leaves have fallen.
Usually, the month of November brings with it glorious sunsets and sunrises, but I have only managed to capture one sunrise, and that was during the last week. You can see the same Maple tree now bereft of leaves in the early morning sunshine.
Throughout the month, these Nerines have been giving a very welcome show of bright pink colour. They look so exotic and fragile but are incredibly hardy. Still going strong is the planter of Bidens and Astors I planted back in June. Such great value. Usually by now the planter is full of bulbs ready for spring but I can’t bring myself to dig these bedding plants up just yet.
And so to a reminder that winter is just around the corner. The holly hedge is abundant with great clusters of berries this year, as is the snowberry bush in the back garden. I hope this isn’t a sign of a particularly cold winter ahead. It’s been a good year for blueberries as well. This late variety is still ripening at a rate of a small handful a week.
Thanks for stopping by. Until my next post, take care and keep warm 🙂
Hello there. I hope you are keeping well and managing to stay cool in this very hot summer. The temperatures have been exceptional here in the UK and all over Europe which is great if you’re on holiday but not so good if you’re working. The garden is looking quite different this year due to the heat; many of the flowers are fading much more quickly than in previous years.
Last weekend, in an effort to stay cool and enjoy the outdoors at the same time, I went for a walk in some local woodland. I was looking to see how long it would be before the hedgerow blackberries (brambles) would be ripe enough to pick – I don’t think it’s going to be a good year for brambling sadly. Quite unexpectedly, I came across several wild cherries trees, completely untouched by birds, and laden with fruit as far as the eye could see.
I was completely unprepared for foraging. I had no bag other than the small holster bag I was using to carry a water bottle. Cherry trees are enormous in the wild, but there were quite a few fruits on the lowest branches and I was able to fill my bag with just under 1kg of fruit. The cherries were the sweetest, juiciest I have ever tasted. Such an unexpected treat. Apparently, it has been a bumper year for cherries because of the hot weather, but I am still amazed that the birds hadn’t been interested in them. If only I had gone walking with a ladder! 🙂
Back at home, I pitted the cherries. The firmer ones were easier to pit using my faithful old Italian cherry pitter, but the ripe ones I sliced and pitted using the tip of a sharp knife. Some went in the freezer, others were cooked in a crumble for tea, and the rest went into this week’s recipe.
Easy to make, just a bit of advanced prep – you need to line a cake tin and make up a flax seed egg replacement mixture. Then, you are good to go. The brownies keep well but in this warmth, I kept them in the fridge to stop them going too soft and sticky. They also freeze perfectly. Eat them as a sweet treat but they are also good served with more fresh cherries or compote and ice cream for dessert.
175g dairy-free dark chocolate (I used 54% cocoa – if you use darker chocolate, omit the cocoa powder and add an extra 25g flour)
150g lightly salted plant butter, cut into pieces
25g ground flax seed
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
75g gluten-free plain flour
25g cocoa powder
140g pitted cherries, halved (approx. 170g whole)
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C fan oven, gas 5. Line an 18cm square cake tin with baking parchment.
2. Put 150g chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the butter and melt gently over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove from the water and cool for 10 minutes.
3. Make up the flax egg by mixing the flax seed with 110ml cold water and leave to stand for 5 minutes until thickened.
4. Mix the sugar and flax egg into the melted chocolate along with the vanilla paste, then add the flour and cocoa powder and stir well until everything is well blended.
5. Pour into the prepared tin and scatter the cherries on top. Bake for about 1 hour until the mixture is set in the middle – initially the mixture rises round the edges leaving the centre molten but after a longer time in the oven, the centre firms up. Leave to cool in the tin.
6. Remove from the tin and peel away the lining paper. Cut into 16 squares – you may find it easier to chill the brownie before you cut it as the texture is quite soft at room temperature.
7. Melt the remaining chocolate. Put the brownie squares on a board and drizzle each piece with a little chocolate. Leave to set before serving. Best stored in the fridge.
I’m off to enjoy another slice now. I’ll see you again towards the end of the month. Until then, keep well and stay cool 🙂
It has been a lovely sunny day here today, so different to the weather we experienced in the middle of the week. My post to round off the month is one that I had intended to write last year but never quite got all the images together in time. Now more than ever, it seems very fitting to write about this peaceful-looking, delicate little flower, a symbol of hope for many, and one that brings signs of new life and spring at this time of year.
The snowdrop (Galanthus nivalus) is one of the first signs of spring for many of us. Although they look so fragile and vulnerable, they are very hardy, and I can prove it. After several centimetres of snowfall this week, every single one in the garden has bounced back completely unharmed.
The pure white flowers with their bright green flashes can be found all over Europe from the beginning of the year onwards. They are native to southern Europe. In the UK, their history is a bit unclear but they have been noted in garden journals for a few hundred years, escaping to the wild some time later. During the Crimean War of the 1850’s, the hills surrounding the battlefields were reportedly covered in snowdrops. Soldiers returning from this war brought the bulbs back to their wives and sweethearts in the UK, and the Crimean snowdrop (Galanthus plicatus) took up its residence as part of the British landscape. There are over 2000 varieties of snowdrop, and the national collection of 350 varieties are grown on the Cambo Estate in Fife, East Scotland.
In February last year, I was taking a walk around some nearby country roads, admiring the scenery and enjoying the peace. Monzie is a small hamlet at the foothills of the Highlands, right behind the town where I live. I had never done the walk at this time of the year so it was a lovely surprise to round the corner in the road and come across so many wild snowdrops growing over the banks, over the old stone bridge and in the grounds of the local church, Monzie Kirk.
When I was taking the photographs today in the garden, I noticed a couple of flower-heads had upturned. This is the first time I have seen the underside of the petals. Very pretty they are too.
I hope you enjoyed the images. Snowdrops really are a breath of fresh air at this time of year. Until next time, take care and keep safe.
Hello again. I hope you are keeping well. It’s been a busy month for me which has meant that I haven’t had much spare time to put a post together. Now as the season feels like it is shifting, I thought I would take a look back on what’s been happening out of doors this past month.
The garden is showing signs of Autumn now with leaves changing colour and a crop of pale lilac crocus appearing in a shady border. Earlier in the month I went to visit my family in Sussex. The weather was very warm and we spent most of our time together out of doors. On one walk, I was delighted to find some blackberries untouched in a hedgerow and was able to carry my precious cargo of black jewels all the way back home to Scotland to make into a compote with apples from my tree. Delicious.
As you can see, it’s another good year for apples. I’ve only picked a few so far, but I think with the weather turning cooler this weekend and a predicted frost,, I will be picking the remainder in the next few days. I’ve also harvested a lot of potatoes, and put many more in storage. I’m feeling pleased with myself, after years of giving up on carrot growing, I’ve had a fair crop this year. The variety was called “Rainbow” and I had high hopes of a multi-coloured batch, but in the end, they were mostly yellow. No matter, they tasted fresh and spicy, just as homegrown carrots should do.
I’m over-run with tomatoes too. Dehydration for the small ones, and tomato sauce for the larger ones. I haven’t started my annual chutney making ritual, but once the apples are picked, the preserving with begin.
Back in the garden, my lovely scented rose bush is back in flower, and the orange lupin is flowering for the third time – I didn’t know this was possible! Another splash of orange in the garden comes from the carnations I planted a few years ago. Back in the spring, I moved them to a different spot, in a raised bed by a sunny wall, and they are thriving.
I’m pretty sure that I mentioned the Japanese anemones in my last garden post back in August. They have gone from strength to strength, and I think this year is the first time they have grown en masse to create such an impactful display under the apple tree.
That’s me for another month. I wish you well over the coming days, and look forward to sharing a recipe with you next time around. Until then, my best wishes to you.
Hello everyone. What a weird and surreal spring this is turning out to be. In many ways life goes on as usual: the spring flowers are blossoming; the birds are chirping and calling to each other; the days are drawing out, and the weather is brightening up. Yet, we humans are having to behave very differently.
I hope you are all getting along ok. It seems we’re affected by the spread of the virus throughout the world, and we’re all having to do our bit to keep it at bay. In the UK, we have been asked to keep our distance from each other, to stay at home as much as possible, and to only go out for exercise and essential shopping. At the weekend, I was able to find a quiet spot and combine a spot of foraging along with a walk along a nearby riverbank and woodland.
The air was warm and heavy with the scent of the garlic leaves. It was a joy to be out of doors and away from the troubles of the world, hearing only the water bubbling and the birds singing. I picked a few leaves here and there from the river bank. The garlic seems to be very abundant this year.
If you are able to go foraging, always forage responsibly by taking one or two leaves from a plant rather than stripping a whole one bare. And, wash the leaves thoroughly before cooking.
Back at home, I used some of the leaves to make a version of my favourite mash recipe using seasoned 500g mashed potato, 50g chopped wild garlic leaves and 50ml olive oil. I spread this on top of a creamy vegetable sauce and drizzled with more olive oil before baking.
The next day, I cooked up more leaves with spring greens and leeks – deliciously tasty with pasta or over rice. A version of this recipe can be found here.
This time I used 100g shredded cabbage with 75g each wild garlic and leek. Season and stir fry in 20ml olive oil for 2-3 minutes, then lower the heat, put the lid on and cook gently for about 10 minutes until wilted down. Simple but delicious.
I wish you well over the next few days. Until next time, keep safe, and enjoy spring as best you can 🙂
For this week’s post, I have made a slight departure from my usual offerings. I have just returned from a few days down in the south of England celebrating Mothering Sunday with my family.
The county of Sussex is where I grew up and I remember the bluebell woods especially well. Carpets of fragrant blue flowers lined these particular woods in Slindon, most usually from mid to late April onwards. With the early onset of spring this year, I had a feeling that there might be some out in flower and I wasn’t disappointed. There were quite a few of the delicate, sweet-selling blue blooms alongside many other wild flowers.
It was a glorious day in these woods. The sun was warm and the sky was blue. The flowers seemed to almost glow in the bright light, and with the combination of good weather and the untimely blooming of these wild flowers, it was hard to remember exactly what month it actually was.
Not only were there flowers to enjoy in the woods, but the hedgerows and trees around and about were full of life too. Several species of butterfly were darting around from flower to flower (too quick for me to capture), and the bees buzzing and busy collecting pollen. It’s going to be a bumper year for hedgerow fruits if these blossom-laden Blackthorn trees are anything to go by.
My final image this week is of a Sussex pastoral scene and a tree that encompasses this time of year so well, the Salix Discolor, or Pussy Willow, with its fuzzy pollen-laden stamens so tempting to the bees and flying insects.
I hope you have enjoyed the visit to Sussex this week. I will be back with you next week with something equally seasonal. Until then, have a good week and enjoy Spring 🙂
Every year at this time my local river bank becomes swathed in lush greenery and develops a distinctive oniony aroma. A walk on a sunny afternoon can make you feel very hungry indeed.
On a bright afternoon at the end of last week, I went on a foraging expedition and picked a small bag of the fresh, lush wild garlic leaves, also known as Ramsons (Allium ursinum). As with any wild food, only ever pick if in abundance. Take leaves from several plants rather than stripping leaves from just one or two. Pick the vibrant green, broad leaves (shaped rather like those of the tulip) when young and before the delicate white star-shaped flowers bloom to enjoy them at their sweetest.
For safetys sake, take extra care to make that sure you are only picking the leaves of wild garlic. Wash very well before using. I usually put the leaves in a colander and dunk several times in a bowl of cold water before shaking dry.
As with most soft herbs, wild garlic is best used within 24 hours of picking, but once rinsed and shaken dry, I find it well for a few days sealed in a plastic bag in the fridge.
My recipe this week combines the wild garlic leaves with baby kale leaves (or kalettes) and leek in a stir fry. It is delicious served as a vegetable dish in its own right, but is also makes a delicious stirred to a mushroom risotto.
For the stir fry:
1 medium leek
30g wild garlic, washed
175g baby kale (or kalettes)
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the risotto:
1l vegetable stock
2 tbsp. olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and chopped
400g Arborio rice
200ml dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g wild garlic, washed and finely shredded
Trim the leek. Split lengthways and rinse well to remove any trapped earth. Shake well to remove excess water, then shred finely.
Shred the wild garlic leaves. Strip the leaves of baby kale from the central stalks. Mix all the vegetables together.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the greens and stir fry for 2 minutes. Season well, reduce the heat to low, and cover and cook gently for 4-5 minutes until tender. Serve immediately as a vegetable accompaniment, or put to one side whilst preparing the risotto.
For the risotto, pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a very gentle simmer. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until everything is well mixed.
Pour in half the wine and cook gently, stirring, until absorbed. Add the remaining wine along with a ladleful of stock. Cook gently until absorbed.
Continue adding the stock in this way, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is thick, creamy and tender. This will take about 25 minutes and should not be hurried. Keep the heat moderate throughout the cooking.
Season the risotto to taste, stir in all but a few shreds of wild garlic, and cook for a further minute until the garlic has wilted. To serve, reheat the spring greens and gently mix into the risotto, then serve sprinkled with the remaining wild garlic.
A bit of a departure from my usual blog posts this week. I’ve had some time away from my home in Scotland, and spent a few days in Sussex, where I grew up, visiting friends and family, and enjoying some fine late spring weather.
On a walk along the South Downs, I climbed down to a secluded cove, only accessible when the tide is low, to discover sea kale growing on the sand and shingle beach and out of the chalky cliffs. The afternoon was still and warm, and the frilly edged, grey/blue-green leaves of the kale appeared silvery in the bright sunlight; the sweet smell of honey hung in the air from its many flowers which grow in clusters above the leaves.
I’ve never discovered sea kale growing wild before, and have never cooked nor eaten it. The opportunity and temptation was too great and I picked 2 or 3 of the smaller leaves from a few established plants. I knew that sea kale kept well – sailors used to take it on voyages as a source of vitamin C – so I put the leaves in a jug of water, in the fridge for a couple of days, before taking them back to Scotland to experiment in the kitchen.
As with most leafy vegetables, I guessed that the smaller leaves would be the most edible. Apparently, sea kale (Crombemaritima) is not actually kale, it’s a type of chard and belongs to the cabbage family. All parts are edible, raw and cooked. but in the interests of conservation, I picked just a few leaves.
And so, to the kitchen. I treated the sea kale as if it were a leafy cabbage or curly kale. I gave it a good soak to remove any sand, etc, and then sliced out the stems. I shredded some of the leaves, and decided to roast the rest whole as I do with kale.
Stems with balsamic vinegar – trim the ends and then slice the stems down the centre, lengthways. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute, drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper. Heat a frying pan until hot, drizzled with a little olive oil and stir fry the stems for 2-3 minutes until softened and browned a little. Turn off the heat, season with balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper. Cover with a lid and stand for 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped chive stems and flowers.
Leaves with garlic, chilli and soy – shred the leaves as you would Savoy cabbage and cook in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain well. Stir fry chopped leek and garlic in a little oil until softened and then add the boiled sea kale and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until tender. Season with dark soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce.
To bake sea kale, choose the thinnest leaves, remove the stems if coarse, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a bowl and toss in a little olive oil, and massage it through the leaves to coat them lightly. Spread out on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and season well with smoked salt, pepper and caster sugar. Bake at 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6) for 10 minutes, turn the leaves and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until dark and crispy. Season with chilli flakes and serve with extra sugar and smoked salt for dipping.
The verdict: if you like strong-tasting cabbage and seaweed ( which I do), then you’ll like sea kale. It’s not a flavour for the faint-hearted that’s for sure. It can be also be seasoned with other strong flavoured ingredients. I was surprised that it is not salty at all. Some of the slightly larger leaves had a slight medicinal bitterness to them, which makes me think that the much larger leaves would be inedible.
If you’re lucky enough to find some, it’s definitely worth trying. I feel fortunate to have stumbled across such a fabulous freebie courtesy of Mother Nature 🙂