Thursday, December 31, 2015

A surprise Christmas present

I received these cute little pins featuring my veggie illustrations, from the creative folks at Bluehill.

Quite timely, as I’m busy chopping up mountains of veg. Forget mince pies, stodgy puds and fiddly canapés; all you really need in the fridge for the holidays is a huge pot of home-made Minestrone soup.

Its beauty is manifold... Start it off with all the lost souls from the vegetable garden, the split carrots, dried out beans and knobbly artichokes and then keep the pot topped up with any left over veg from dinner and once the bird is finished, the stock from the turkey bones. Just keep a vague eye on the proportion of veg to stock and it should get even tastier as time goes on. 

Such an accommodating soup always reminds me of a story we used to read to our children when they were small... 

A cold and hungry tramp arrives on the doorstep of a cosy farmhouse. The farmer’s wife very reluctantly invites him in but is adamant that she doesn’t want to share with him the mouthwatering ingredients she is preparing for her supper. 
Thinking she can fob him off she drops a rusty nail into her pot of simmering water and presents him with a bowl of “nail soup”. 
The tramp sips it, oh so gratefully and declares it delicious. She is flattered. 
There’s a but, though. 
He suggests that to elevate the soup to the next level of delectability she could maybe add an onion? 
You’ve probably guessed, she is persuaded one by one to rummage through her cupboards and add all the ingredients she was reserving for her own supper. The more she adds the more appreciative the tramp is, until they’re both sitting down together sharing a hearty stew.

While I do harbour an affection for the beauty of rusty nails, you will notice I have left them out of this soup. In the spirit of the story though, I am all for rifling through the fridge. In goes that drop of oil swilling around in the otherwise empty anchovy tin and likewise some tomatoes that are too squishy for slicing but perfect for squashing. 

Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
½ bulb fennel, diced
2 decent carrots, diced
1 small parsnip, diced 
1 leek halved lengthways, then chopped
1.5 litres stock (veg or preferably turkey)
4 tomatoes (squashed!) or a 400 g can of chopped tomatoes
450 g fresh borlotti beans or a 400 g can of beans
¼ head savoy cabbage
50 g dried mini pasta shapes (or all those broken shards in the bottom of any normal bag)
2 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

freshly grated parmesan to serve

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large, heavy pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and fennel and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a spatula. Add the carrots, parsnip, and leek and continue to cook gently for a further 10 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to soften. If they are starting to brown reduce the heat.

Add 1.2 litres of the stock, the chopped tomatoes, and the beans. Bring the soup to a boil , then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the cabbage, pasta the fresh herbs and the remaining stock. Simmer for another 10 minutes or until the cabbage and pasta are cooked. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and warm crusty bread.

If you're likely to be deluged by un-announced 'first-footers' tonight, or maybe a weary tramp, there's ample time before midnight to get a pot simmering… 
In fact the local stray cat has just forced entry to my kitchen and plundered the meat I was planning to cook, so we might well be having Minestrone soup too! 

Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

…dreaming of a WHITE Christmas

One of the young hens laid her first egg this week. 
Yes, I'm pleased for her. 
Mary however can hardly contain her excitement. 
It's like Christmas has come early... simply because the eggs are blue… green? bluey-green? greeny-blue?

Mary turns each egg over in her palm, stroking its perfectly smooth surface, tilting it this way and that to catch the light. At the same time she's wrapping her tongue around a string of fancy syllables like ce-ru-le-an, eau-de-nil and cy-an in an effort to describe the colour to anyone who is within earshot.

If only she'd paint a picture of the jolly thing that would put us all out of our misery.

I lay white eggs. 
Do I feel upstaged? Maybe.

Once Mary has calmed down I'll remind her that blue is actually quite a bold statement. 
White, on the other hand, goes with everything!

Have a Happy Christmas, love Hulanicki 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Now we are six...

Hello, Hulanicki guest blogging for Mary. Mary thinks it’s spring already. She’s busy hopping round the garden in light woollens photographing pink blossom, clumps of snowdrops and her broad beans that are a foot high and already in flower.

I suppose it is unseasonably warm, which is why we have decided to start laying again.
Mary thinks this is marvellous. She loves her scrambled eggs for breakfast on Saturday. 

Let me bring you up to date on the coop reshuffle.
Three weeks ago Berlinda sat down on her haunches, sunk her beak onto her breast and simply expired. All very neatly accomplished I must say. Then again, she was a classy bird despite never having laid an egg in her life. I suspect she was one of those “too posh to push” types.

Knock me down with a feather, the following week Peggy MBE keeled over too. Now this did worry Mary. She shot over with her chicken encyclopaedia and thumbed through the diseases glossary. I don’t think she realised she was reading out loud but we could all hear this terrifying list of horrid symptoms. Most of them concluded with “usually fatal”.

Peggy really was 'king pin', so now the rest of us are jostling for position. Consider this blog my UCAS 'personal statement' (for those grappling with UK university applications at the moment), hopefully I can impress Mary enough for her to elect me as 'top flock'.

A couple of weeks down the line, so far so good. Our main problem at the moment to be honest, is the two cockerels. They hurtle out of the coop in the morning firing on all cylinders. We girls try to creep out unseen, call it an attempt to have breakfast in pyjamas. But we’re usually chased and hounded, subjected to the cockerel's clumsy foot stamping dance, before we’re pinned to the ground... and the rest is disgusting. It sometimes takes me ages to realign my feathers after that indignity, and, sigh, breakfast is taken late again.

Last night however, I had a nightmare. 

The coop door creaked open in the middle of the night. Torch light flashed in our eyes. A strong hand grabbed first one cockerel then the other. There were squawks. Then hush. A deep voice muttered “you got string?” “hold sack open”. Then heavy footsteps dissolved into the darkness.

This morning there was an eerie calm. It wasn’t just a dream. The cockerels had simply vanished. 

Oh well, they lived life in the fast lane, but perhaps they didn't realise that when soup is your destiny it’s down hill all the way to the pot!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Joy of Thursday Afternoons

‘The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials’ Thoreau

Thursday afternoon, mid December. The winter light is fading already, but that does not deter the grey anoraks, 
who like a flock circling their prey are gathering, in anticipation, at the local auction preview. 

The lack lustre dress code conceals a lifetime of antiquarian expertise. And anyway, anoraks have enough pockets to house simultaneously a robust tape measure, notebook, magnifying glass, pencil stub and knitted hat.

One enthusiast stoops to run his hand over the cabriole leg on an 18th century chaise longue while his wife fondly embraces a Coalport gravy jug. She's transported to her grandmother's dresser. 

A character in ox-blood corduroys is fascinated by Lot no. 2150
"An early 20th century taxidermy of a rabbit riding a muzzled fox." Really?

Lot no. 1574 "Two book presses, an antler and a leatherette bag."
This is beginning to feel like the props list for an intriguing drama.

My friend and I are discussing our wish lists. 
I am rather tempted by a box of battered old brass escutcheons. 
They have beautiful curves. I would like to tweak them into bird sculptures. 
I would need to find the time… and learn how to solder….
On reflection, they probably fall into the non-essential category... so I’m going pass them by.