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So the Mexican party last night was lovely, lots of sombreros and homemade ponchos, Maria brought maracas, and we ate a lot of chilli, baked potatoes, tortilla chips and wraps.  Ours friends Katie and Kate, who’s party it was, have just finished doing their back yard and it looked stunning – they’ve painted the walls a cream colour and trellis in a mossy green, they’ve put some decking down and built raised beds that are full of interesting plants.  It was just a really lovely place to sit out with friends.

Here are some pretty flowers and herbs from my garden that I made into a posy for our friends as a gift.  This little bunch was so fragrant – with lavender, sweetpeas, marjoram and mint – I would definitely recommend using popping a couple of sprigs of herbs into a bunch of flowers.

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Today has been another warm day in Cheshire, so N and I headed straight down to the allotment to trim the long grass, water and put in a few more plants I’ve been growing from seedlings.

The strawberries we inherited on the allotment are plumping up nicely, we are just waiting for then to start blushing and turning red…and hope the rabbits don’t get to them first!

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The purple sprouting broccoli (the green plant towards the back of the pic) has shot up since we last went down, and Maria’s brussel sprout plants (the purple plant in the foreground) are looking equally healthy.  Even the three smaller plants that aren’t enclosed by my snazzy wire fence are doing well and haven’t (yet! touchwood!) been decimated by the rabbits.

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I also discovered a number of small cabbage white caterpillars on one of the broccoli plants, so I have carefully pinched the leaves off, brought the caterpillars home and have lovingly encouraged them onto some of my nasturtium plants.  Mad you may say, why didn’t I “dispose” of them you ask, well I like butterflies and I’m happy to sacrifice some of my nasturtiums for them.

Some of the sweetcorn (like this one) are doing well, others look a bit piddly, but rumour has it we’ve got rain this week, so hopefully that might pick the smaller ones up a little.

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N cleared a patch of ground where pumpkins had previously been grown, and I planted four Uchi Kuri pumpkin plants that I have tended from seed.  In between them I also dug in a couple of nasturtiums because I just love the way they trail and ramble over everything and their jolly flowers.

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So overall the allotment is looking pretty good, taking into consideration that this year we just haven’t had the time to clear and tidy it properly.  Rather things are just growing between the tall grasses and weeds, but growing they are.  Next year we will work on making it look pretty and neat.

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It’s been a while since I posted any pictures of my newly acquired allotment.  I feel that we’ve done quite well with our plot, considering that we only get down there occasionally.

This photo was taken almost a month ago – we had just finished planting five large beds of potatoes! 

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With N out playing cricket, I made a trip down there on Sunday and ended up there for about 3 hours.  The garlic, onions and shallots seem to be doing well. 

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The shallots have started to split, which is quite exciting for someone who’s never grown onions or shallots before:

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I planted some Cosmos that I have grown from seedlings, which had probably spent a couple of weeks too many in their tiny pods, so we shall have to wait and see how they fare on the allotment.  I also managed to plant out some Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants that I bought at least a month ago and have been hanging on to as it said to plant them out in May.

I spent a good while erecting a chicken wire barrier between them and potential death – I’m not sure whether bunnies like broccoli plants, but I’m not about to wait and see:

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Overall I was quite pleased with my attempt, especially as it was quite a challenge with no one to hold the other end of the roll of chicken wire:

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I do feel that having put a fence to prevent the wild rabbits from munching on my tiny vegetable plants that it will attract them.  I worry they will see it as a challenge, that because there’s a fence whatever’s behind it must be even tastier, and therefore they will try especially hard to get it.

The potatoes have finally shown their faces – I was beginning to think that maybe all five beds were lost…but fear not, they are growing:

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The fruit canes (believed to be raspberry) behind the ‘shed’ are now green and leafy with lots of flower heads appearing, which means (fingers-crossed) lots of berries – my mouth is already beginning to water at the thought of harvests yet to come:

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I burnt off at least one of the three-and-a-half-bars-of-chocolate brownies that we made for N’s birthday by hoeing a piece of ground at the bottom of the allotment.  I am undecided as to whether I will sow it with purple clover (which is a green manure) or whether I might try making it into a mini meadow. 

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I do think it’s a shame you don’t drive along country roads in this country and find odd patches of meadow brimming with colour and buzzing bees like these we’ve found in France:

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And finally, the rhubarb has shot up thick stalks topped with a foam of white flowers.  How pretty.

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purple sprouting broccoli with mustard hollandaise

purple sprouting broccoli with mustard hollandaise

I’m not quite sure where I would be without food at the moment.  It is my little bit of space to escape to, whether it’s lovingly prepared home-cooked food, or the guilty pleasure of frozen pizza comfort food – it’s there for me in a quite, steady way. 

Last night we made a simple but delicious dish of Purple Sprouting Broccoli with a Mustard Holandaise sauce.  It was the first glimmer of those summer dinners which are flung together from a few ingredients but turn out to be to be the most satisfying and memorable.  Amidst the snow storms and freezing temperatures that have descended on us this week, this was my first taste of the new year.

Delicately cooked spears of purple sprouting broccoli smothered in a glossy egg yolk sauce have been a food dream for a couple of weeks now, and one of my favourite recipe books helped my realise this meal.  The recipe was taken – and always it seems in my case, adapted – from the Riverford Farm Cook Book from the people who bring us the Riverford Organics box scheme.  This is a fantastic book for anyone who needs a bit of inspiration for cooking with vegetables, although it does include some meat elements in some of the recipes.  It is truly a celebration of the humble vegetable. 

The recipe, slightly adapted to my just-got-in-from-work-and-not-enough-time needs, is simple – boil the spears of purple sprouting broccoli.  Whip up a hollandaise sauce (a sensible thing to attempt for the first time, I feel, after a long day at work…).  Pile the broccoli on a plate and drizzle over the sauce.  Eat standing up, at the kitchen counter, with a fork (and a knife if you wish).  And don’t forget to mop up any remaining sauce with your finger!

It took my two attempts to make the hollandaise, the first I cooked the egg yolk and lemon juice just slightly too long and it went all lumpy. I am not good at admitting defeat, but it was well worth it to accept it had gone wrong, wash the bowl out and start again. The resulting sauce was beautiful.

Our local box scheme – Northern Harvest (www.northernharvest.co.uk) – supplied the first of the seasons English purple sprouting broccoli, and the eggs were laid by my colleagues hens.  That’s local enough for me!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli with  a Mustard Hollandaise Sauce

Serves 2

200g purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed

For the hollandaise
125g unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
salt and pepper

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add your broccoli – cook until just tender but still a vibrant green.

In a separate pan, gently melt the butter then remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolk and lemon juice in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, just until it starts to thicken. Then start to gradually add the melted butter, a little at a time, whisking it until each amount has been incorporated. This is when the sauce will start to thicken and go glossy.

When you’ve whisked in all the melted butter, you can take it off the heat and stir in the mustard, and season it with salt and pepper.

Drain the broccoli and let if briefly steam dry. Pile onto a plate and drizzle over the hollandaise sauce.

This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from the Riverford Farm Cook Book by Guy Watson and Jane Baxter.

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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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