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It’s been a busy week here with work, voluntary stuff after work, and dinner with friends.  Tuesday evening N and I went to a talk by Guy Watson at Hullabaloo Cafe – we had slow roasted pork for tea and a really enjoyable evening.  He led a great talk about organic growing, and people offered up some interesting questions that sparked a good debate.  Plus we came away with a freebie bag of gorgeous looking broccoli.

With my garden overflowing with lettuce in multiple forms, I thought it only right to dedicate a post to it entirely.  What follows is my way of preparing a good green salad, from tender leaf plucked from the garden to delicious bowl of goodness. 

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The key to a good green salad is the leaves themselves.  When you’ve eaten lettuce picked only seconds before from the place it was growing, you will never look at bagged supermarket salad in the same way.  It just doesn’t compare.  There is none of that slightly chemical odour as you open the bag, even if it claims it’s only been washed in ‘spring water’.  There are no slightly limp mushy bits that collect at the bottom.  Freshly picked leaves are pert and crisp, and full of insense flavour.

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If the weather has been dry and you are lucky enough to have escaped the dratted green fly, you most likely will be able to pluck your leaves and pop them straight into your serving bowl.  If, however, it has rained recently and earth has splattered your leaves, or if like me you find the odd gang of aphids hiding amongst the folds of your lettuce, it is probably necessary to rinse your leaves.  We have recently invested in a rather ‘cool’ salad spinner, which is really too trendy and slightly out of place in our cosy cottage.  It is, however, a fantastic piece of gadgetry. 

So to begin with, I insist on carefully picking through each leaf, searching for bugs and carefully washing each leaf before placing them into the salad spinner basket – N is much more casual about this stage of salad making much to my distress.  I give them a good whiz, before draining off the water, and rinsing the whole basket of leaves again and giving them another whiz in the spinner.  I drain any water out again, and give the leaves a final spin to get them really dry.  And that’s the leaf preparation done.

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As for my salad dressing of choice, it tends to fall to the same line up of ingredients: lemon juice, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey/agave syrup, salt, pepper and olive oil.  You may have realised by now that I am not one for measuring – I favour tasting and instict over exact amounts, so please bear with me as I try and describe how much of what to add! 

My favourite salad dressing recipe

Into a clean jam jar (one with a lid) I add a good squeeze of lemon juice and an equal amount of white wine vinegar.  Then I add around a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of honey/agave syrup (at the moment I am favouring the agave syrup – which is made from a cactus – as it has a lighter, cleaner taste whereas honey often is too sweet and overpowering).  To this I add a good pinch or two of salt and a good grinding of black pepper.  Finally I top it all up with olive oil – I tend to work on the general salad dressing notion of more oil than vinegar, so it’s usually around 1/3 vinegar and lemon juice and 2/3 oil.  Screw on the lid and give it a good shake.  It should be a very pale yellow colour and a slightly creamy consistency.  The best bet is to try it – if you like the taste great, if not, adjust the seasoning – a little more salt, a dab more Dijon, etc, until it taste nice.

Pop your lovingly prepared salad into a serving bowl and drizzle over your dressing.  Any leftover dressing will keep well in the jar in the fridge.

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Very exciting news – we ate our first homegrown from the garden salad of 2009 tonight!  Some may think that I am acting a little too silly about something that could be considered trivial, but if you’ve ever tasted homegrown salad leaves, if you’ve ever tried to eat with the seasons, then your first salad of the year is a very special thing indeed.  If you haven’t done either of those two things, you must.

We needed to eat up some Jersey Royal new potatoes (from Northern Harvest), so a simple salad was dreamed up…new potatoes…smoked trout…lemon mayo dressing…and salad leaves from the garden.  This is one of my favourite combinations and possibly one of the easiest meals to make.

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There is something deeply wonderful about picking up my colander, pulling on my boots and wandering down the garden to pick the first salad leaves.  After so many months of brown, dead, rotting earth, of dormant plants and deep, earthy meals, that first delicate snap as you pinch off a pert green leaf is a signal of good things to come. 

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Enough of describing how it feels to pick the salad, and on to what I actually collected for our tea.  From the garden I picked the following leaves: red oakleaf, baby cos, a selection of oriental saladini, lambs lettuce, buckler leaf sorrel.  To this I added some chives and mint. 

We boiled the new potatoes in salted water, drained, and tossed with a knob of butter and the finely sliced mint.  Not to forget a good sprinkle of salt and grind of pepper.  The smoked trout (from The Cheshire Smokehouse) was flaked over the potatoes, and the homegrown salad simply placed beside them.  No dressing, just a tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  To finish off the potatoes, I added lemon juice to a spoonful of mayonnaise until it reached a slightly runny consistency and spooned it over the potatoes and trout.

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An utterly delicious and satisfying dinner.

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I must admit that although I did have time to post last night after the stinky boyfriend went to bed, I instead curled up on the sofa with a very cuddly bunny to watch recorded episodes of the Great British Menu.  Borage was unusually friendly last night, and even relaxed enough to rest his chin on my arm – he even had a little snooze and did lot of eye fluttering and paw twitching…I can only guess he was running through lush green meadows in his dreams.  Funny bunny.

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Borage watching tv

It was only two weeks ago when I posted my April garden update and yet the garden has changed so much since then – the photos were in fact taken at the beginning of the month, but still the changes are notable.  The incredibly warm sunny weather we have experienced recently has probably has something to do with the growth spurt.  I realise my last garden update was pretty dull, so I have taken lots of photos this time – I do enjoy documenting the changes that the garden goes through as things sprout, grow, fruit and eventually die back.

Those delicate little lettuce seedlings that I bought and carefully protected under improvised cloches are doing really well, with gorgeous glossy leaves.  You might notice I’ve suffered two losses of the green batavia (one rotted early on, and the other snapped off, but left a couple of tiny leaves which seems to be recovering well if a little behind the others):

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It is becoming very difficult to resist picking these luscious frilly leaves:

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The first set of radishes are starting to plump up nicely into small rubies:

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These are small cos lettuces that I have sown from seed:

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And beautiful burgundy coloured red oakleaf lettuce:

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This is one of my raised beds.  I have planted to rows of peas, and in between them rows of different salads – some baby leaf, some whole lettuces. 

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The peas are doing so well and I can’t wait to shell my first pod and pop the first pea into my mouth:

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I adore the way they curl their tendrils around the pea sticks and twine.  You can almost watch them stretching out their delicate tendrils, and wrapping their fingers around whatever they can find.

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I have sown two types of spring onion – ‘Guardsman’ for salads and ‘Paris Silverskin’ for pickling.  Both rows are looking healthy:

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The tiny carrot’s have unfurled their frothy green foliage :

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The rows of oriental saladini and baby leaf salad are starting to form their individual leaves – some round, some spiky, some lush green, others deep purple:

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Enough of salads and onto fruit.  My strawberry and raspberry ‘jungle’ has transformed from just a month ago:

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The wild strawberries are flowering and the raspberry’s have sent up lots of new suckers:  

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I will certainly be netting my blackcurrant bush this summer – last year the birds got most of the fruits:

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In the ‘greenhouse’ the seeds that I have sown are coming along.  There are sweetcorn seedlings:

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Uchi Kuri squash:

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Jack-Be-Little pumpkins:

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And my first cucmber seedling has sprouted:

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I will leave you with this lovely shot of Mr Blackbird sitting on ‘his’ spot as he does every evening as the sun sinks, singing his beautiful tune to us.

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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