Friday, 25 February 2011

I spy.....

Sunny day yesterday so biked around a bit between Queen's Park and Kilburn High Road, and this is what caught my eye....

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Frugal February - your flask is your friend

Remember flasks?  No family picnic was complete without a large flask of tea with milk stored separately in a cunning glass bottle like a flattened marmite jar in the base.  Didn't Bill Bryson tease us about this national love of hot drinks in "Notes from a Small Island"?

"To this day, I remain impressed by the ability of Britons of all ages and social backgrounds to get genuinely excited by the prospect of a hot beverage" (page 24, but the rest's well worth reading too).

But I digress - the point in Frugal February is that flasks are very frugal- they save you time, money and gas or electricity.  Normal black coffee - however you make it- keeps well in a flask.  It's also fine with milk in - make sure it's really hot though.  It's a bit more complicated if you like a skinny latte mocha or something like that, but you could always give it a try.

If herb tea's your beverage of choice, then you've got to get into flask use!  Stop paying £1.80 or whatever for what's basically a mug of hot water when you're out.  Just make the tea in the flask- don't bother with a teapot- and leave the bag in if you like a strong brew or take it out after a few minutes.  Of course, if you grew and dried your own mint or other herb last summer- well done- that's much more frugal, but one step at a time.

This is dried mint from last year.  It's easy to grow and to dry - I just left it on some newspaper in a sunny place indoors.

Oh, and it's better if possible to use separate flasks for tea and coffee (that's why I've got such a big collection).

Flasks are also useful indoors- for keeping your coffee or tea warm for longer (or for later), and if you keep one by the kettle you can put any spare boiling water in there rather than just leaving it to cool down in the kettle.  Electric kettles are very power-hungry so this really is worth while.

Of course I love a local independent cafe too, especially for the coffee!  We've come a long way since 1969 when Ladybird books published "come to France" including these exotic depictions of French cafe culture

And, finally, a bit of flask history - I learnt from the Thermos website that:
"1978 saw the introduction of the world's first Stainless Steel Flask by Thermos revolutionising hot and cold beverage storage around the world"

and we can be part of that peaceful revolution... send me your flask tips and stories..... V, if you're reading this, hip flasks deserve a whole post to themselves.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Libraries- Scandinavian Crime Season

A strange succession of deaths at Helsinki tube stations....a corpse found rolled in a rotting carpet (or rotting in a rolled carpet?) a hospital basement in Stockholm two bullet-riddled bodies lie sprawled on the floor... a church in the glittering frozen wastes of northern Sweden.  Inside, a sacrifice.....winter should be a quiet time on the holiday island of Gotland..... his eyes gouged out and a strange symbol carved on his cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage by Lake Thingvellir..... his head stoved in by a tin of unwanted reindeer meat, cloudberry jam in his pockets.....

It's Scandinavian Crime Month at Kilburn library- hurry there before it ends- on 3rd March.

Swedish librarian, Åsa Nylinder, has made a fantastic selection, by authors you'll have heard of- Steig Larsson, Henning Mankell, Peter Hoeg, and others you may not know - like the Icelandic Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Jo Nesbø and Sofi Oksanen.  I'm part way through Arnaldur Indridason's "Hypothermia" (that's the Lake Thingvellir hanging), and it's great stuff, well translated too.

On Thursday 3rd March 7-9pm award winning and best selling Norwegian crime author, Gunnar Staalesen, is talking about his work at Willesden Green Library.  If you want to read one his books first, ask for "Consorts of Death", "The Writing on the Wall" or "Yours until Death".  Hope to see you there!

I'm a big fan of Scandinavia - the style, the swimming (from those sensible wooden jetties so you don't have to wade through seaweed), the language, the people, the food (excepting the tinned reindeer and, even worse, tinned bear meat on sale in Helsinki's covered market)- I love the way everyone eats peas from  pods in the summer, and goes wild for berries, and then there's the trendy Danish foraging by Rene Redzepi.  Giles Coren described it all brilliantly here

But back to the libraries- it really is a case of Use it or Lose it at the moment, so get down there, join if necessary and borrow some of this gripping Scandinavian crime.

And, by the way, I made up that bit about the reindeer meat and the cloudberry jam - it sneaked in from Frugal February.

Afraid I only just found out about the Crime Short Story Competition- the closing date is on Wednesday 23rd Feb, so unless you can write 2,000 words very quickly it's a bit late.  The challenge is to complete this story begun by Swedish crime fiction author Camilla Ceder:

"In theory, Margaret had functioned well as his partner.  She was a faded beauty who had once been a celebrated singer.  It would not have hurt for her to drink less."

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Frugal February - indoor foraging

Foraging is fashionable right now, so there must be lots of frustrated foragers out there waiting for the new season to begin.  Here's an idea to keep your spirits up (and save money, live sustainably and all that)- forage  indoors, in your own home, in your own cupboards and freezer.  Now is the time- during Frugal February- to pull out all those jars of strange condiments, the pickled walnuts, the date expired buckwheat grains, the tin of reindeer meat which a friend brought from Finland as a joke, the evaporated milk (how did that get there?) and use them up.

I think some celebrity chef has brought out an app where you can search for a recipe by ingredients, but I'm not sure whether it can deal with the sort of strange products lurking in most people's cupboards.  I mean, if you're looking at a red pepper, a bit of fish and some rice it's a bit like a less glossy version of "Ready Steady Cook"- you can make a meal from that.  It's the unusual stuff which is more challenging. 

Here's a few ideas
  • seeds which are a bit old- pumpkin, sunflower- might still be fine for birds.  Same for nuts
  • jam can be used instead of sugar (it's about 50% sugar anyway) in fruit crumbles or other puddings.  Nigella has a great recipe using marmalade in a chocolate cake
  • Tinned salmon makes delicious fishcakes
  • old bread you found in the back of the freezer makes breadcrumbs (ok, it's only useful if you actually use breadcrumbs- you could coat your salmon fishcakes)
  •  pesto goes with lots of things- rice, cooked vegetables, stirred into soup 

Another idea is to leave jars or tins (not date expired ones, they're usable at one's own risk only) on local doorsteps for your friends and neighbours to enjoy. This is the flip side of frugality- generosity.  Pass on stuff or cook up a frugal supper and invite friends round to enjoy reindeer hash.

The orange jelly and evaporated milk have reminded me of those strange milk jellies we used to eat as children (I know, I'm coming over all Nigel Slater, in his book "Toast".  Nothing wrong with that though, it's a great book if that's your era, or even if it isn't).  Anyway, there was an obsession with getting as much milk into children as possible, and milk jelly - particularly if made in a rabbit shaped mould- was better than rice pudding, semolina and tapioca.  Of course it wasn't long before Angel Delight and Instant Whip were invented and all this cooking with milk became a thing of the past.

Back to the foraging.  For real outdoor foraging information check out one of the Transition Towns websites- we're covered by Transition Kensal to Kilburn.  More thoughts on foraging when the outdoor season begins, but to be going on with, have a look at Celtnet for wild food recipes.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Weeders' Weekly - sort your seeds

It's time to remember where you put last year's left over seeds (not to mention packets even older...), sort through them and decide what you need for this year.  It's easy to get carried away looking through seed catalogues, but another way to get seeds is to swap with friends or come along to...

Seedy Saturday in Queens Park

Pick up some free seeds on Saturday 26th February from 10am to noon outside the library.

Vegetable or flower, spring is coming, get planting with Seedy Saturday!

Got spare seeds? Leave them in the Seedy Saturday box at the library in Salusbury Road (on the Transition Town shelf) or bring them along before 11am on the day
Swap poppies for pumpkins, sunflowers for sprouting broccoli.  Just the thing for Frugal February (more about this idea soon).

Save Kensal Rise Library

Photo from  Park Life blog

Brent Libraries under threat
Over 200 local residents packed into the Scout Hut on Leighton Gardens recently to hear the latest from the “Save Kensal Rise Library” committee, and to give their views. The press coverage so far has been fantastic- read Philip Pullman in the Guardian and Tim Lott in the Independent on Sunday
It must be one of the highest profile campaigns for a threatened library anywhere in the UK. What Brent are insisting on, and in an absurdly short time scale is a “business plan” which will cost the Council nothing. This means investigating every possible avenue- grants, philanthropists, business support, sponsorship and so on, but this all takes time.
Read more here

If Kensal Rise is your local library, get involved, join the campaign, join the library, use the library.
If it’s not your local library because you live nearer to Kilburn Library, USE IT OR LOSE IT! Just because Kilburn isn’t currently under threat doesn’t mean it’s safe. Great stuff going on there right now- a display of books by Scandinavian authors (and not just crime fiction).  Before that were books from Sebastian Faulks’ new book “Faulks on Fiction”.  I’d entirely forgotten how much I wanted to read Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” until I saw it temptingly displayed and recommended by SF.

Ann John, the leader of the Council, told us at a meeting that we can all get our books from Amazon now- well, apart from the obvious objections on grounds of cost, belief in not buying what you can borrow, lack of internet access etc- that only works if you already pretty much know which book you want. “The Magic Mountain”? Don’t be daft- I’d completely forgotten about it. And if I don’t like it after all, never mind- I’ll return it.
It’s not just Kensal Rise library under threat in Brent - also Cricklewood, Neasden, Preston, Barham Park and Tokyngton
There is a consultation on line until 4th March so let Brent know your views

Kilburn Tin Tabernacle

A gig in the Kilburn Tin Tabernacle- yes, really! Part of Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou’s Tin Tabernacle Tour, ending up in our very own tin church on Cambridge Avenue. The naval interior was transformed with bunting and fairy lights and a space heater helped enormously.
You’ve probably walked past it - just off the Kilburn High Road, on the way to Kilburn Park tube station- it’s that grey corrugated metal building on the left. Erected in 1863 as a temporary church while St Augustine’s was being built, it was fitted out for the Sea Cadets in the 1950s. They’ve had to move to temporary quarters as it’s become a bit rickety, but plans are afoot to repair and restore it, and bring it back to life. Ed Fordham and a group of hardy volunteers (it really is pretty cold) are committed to finding funding, but they need all the help they can get. Read more on facebook

If you can, call in any Saturday at the Tin Tabernacle between about 11am and 2pm to have a look around – it really has to be seen to be believed- and meet members of the team.

It would be a great venue for a party or for filming- contact

Back to the gig – Pepe Belmonte and Pete Greenwood got the evening off to a great start and although the mercury was dropping the atmosphere was hotting up by the time Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou picked up their guitars. Even if you don’t have an allotment, the refrain of the Allotment Song “ for me, I can’t wait for the spring...” could be an anthem for this boring winter. Listen on youtube

Weeders' Weekly - Garden in winter

Rosehips- not sure why birds haven't eaten these- maybe there's nowhere for them to perch.  Tidy gardeners might have pruned their roses already, but I like the look of the hips, and there's plenty of time for pruning- any time before the roses start putting out a lot of new shoots is fine.  Roses are much more resilient than people think - you can cut them down quite dramatically if necessary and they'll be fine.  More on roses when the weather's warmer- but if you want to plant some, then this is a good time to get them settled in.

Globe artichoke- seems to have been preserved by the cold- looks almost like something found in an ancient Egyptian tomb.  Hoping the globe artichoke plants will survive the winter - they're messily wrapped up in straw and old cardboard.  Foxes investigate everything here anyway so there's not much point trying to do it neatly- practical is better.  The globe artichoke is that rare beast- a vegetable which (frost and cold permitting) comes back every year.  It dies down in the winter (like lots of flowering plants), then shoots up again and starts making big thistle like leaves and flower buds - those are the edible artichokes.  If you don't cut them off and eat them they open into wonderful purple flowers (like giant thistles) which bees and butterflies will feed on. 

Experimented with using these old mattress springs as a support for beans last year. Not that clever as very hard to pick the beans between the springs. 

Love a good shadow effect - and the wire itself is quite interesting when not much is going on in the garden.

This kale is amazing- it's been totally frost resistant and pigeons haven't worked out how to perch on it to eat it. They're pretty dim birds, but once they do stumble upon your young cabbage plants or winter salad they will keep going back for more.  If this happens put net over them or chicken wire if you have any around, or cloches.  One way to hold net in place is to cut up old wire coathangers (with pliers) and bend into U shapes, push into the ground.  It usually doesn't matter if the net is resting on the plants as birds are pretty wary of getting tangled up.  Just don't leave the net on too long as it's maddening trying to disentangle the plants from it once they've really started to grow.

This is honesty, reduced to just an outline by time and weather.  It's a plant which seeds itself all over, grows quite tall quite quickly and has purple or white flowers.  Good for bees. A year or so ago the formal beds in front of the palm house at Kew Gardens were a sea of honesty- looked great.

Love this pumpkin, bought at an Open Garden Day a few years ago at Susan Bennett and Earl Hyde's amazing garden in Muswell Hill.  I think both of them are potters.  Read more and check out this year's Open Days.

Iris Reticulata - wonderful colour, always amazes me by suddenly appearing in full flower when I hadn't realised it was doing anything.  Unlike a lot of bulbs it comes up reliably year after year.  If you didn't have any this year, plant some in a pot in the autumn for next year.

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