the first snow

wildlife

After an evening of snow and a day of rain, we had a night of star studded skies. Frost lay on the ground and sparkled in the end of year sun.

IMG_0506The sun is at is lowest ebb, spilling milky rays across the chilled earth. By swimming in a warm lake and gathering round a fire in the surrounding forest, we celebrated the summer solstice a whole six months ago. But now is a time of lengthening days and gradual renewal.

BeFunky_20141224_151951.jpgAfter six months of living above our heads, the leaves are now and thousand-and-one amongst our feet. Like a November firework or the setting sun, their last act is their brightest.

imageWith the leaves on the ground, cold branches stand stark against the sky. On the ground below, snow turned to ice and chilled our feet.

imageIn the one of the days between Christmas and New Years Eve, we ventured to the high point near our home. Surrounded by heath and woodland, Thurstaston Hill stands overlooking land and sea. The estuary reflected the glistening horizon and in the distance, turbines whirred in the sea air. Our daily lives may be more concrete and tarmac, but we all need these wilder spaces.

image

Advertisements

autumn and earth

gardening, growing, vegetables

So much is written about autumn, from fire-painted leaves to smooth, shining conkers. And yes, there is a deep beauty in it- the growth and vigour of the summer months is returning to the earth, ready to feed new growth after the long winter months.

BeFunky_photo 2 (3).jpgWe may choose to pile our waste into pits in the ground, but the natural world beats to a different drum, where old growth is cycled back into the soil. From death and decay comes life.

Immersed in the garden, you see, smell, feel see this. As the season melts into deep autumn, it is a time of harvest and slumber. Our pear tree has just one precious fruit, hanging on amongst the yellowing leaves.

BeFunky_photo 4 (2).jpg

Over in the chicken run, the supply of eggs has slowed to a crawl. As the hours of light shorten and the temperature falls, their rate of production decreases. The slowing of the eggs is just another marker of the ebb and flow of the seasons.

BeFunky_BeFunky_photo 1 (6).jpg

Our Sussex hen is going through a moult, where they drop their feathers and grow a new set. Her snow-white feathers are scattered over the grass. She is looking a little less proud with just a single tail feather.

Before winter sets in, the strawberries send runners off in every direction, creating a web of fresh growth amongst crisping leaves and black earth.

BeFunky_photo (3).jpgSome of these ‘baby’ strawberries I pot on, the others I leave to run riot wherever they take root. They say that they only fruit for a few years, but because of all these runners, you will always have a fresh supply of the plants and their fruit.

BeFunky_photo 2.jpgThe leaves of the strawberry dry to a blaze of red and rust and honey, a marker of the crimson berries to come in the height of summer.

lemon & limoncello cake

baking, fruit, recipe

The last days of September ended with a swirl of grey cloud and starred nights. With a feeling that every warm day could be the last of the year, I wanted something that would bring zing and warmth into the kitchen and our stomachs.

Lemons ,the colour of the sun in a children’s drawing, and limoncello, an Italian liquor made from lemon zest, were combined to make a cake that’s both sweet and sour.

BeFunky_unnamed (1).jpg

You can make this without limoncello easily, but if you do, you’ll have an incredible cake, but also be able to have a strong drink while it’s baking.

BeFunky_unnamed (5).jpg

The cake is adapted from a simple sponge cake- so its easy enough with equal weights of flour, sugar and eggs.

For the cake

180g self-raising flour

160g caster sugar

3 eggs

lemon zest from four lemons

For the drizzle

20g sugar

juice of 4 lemons

a good shot or two of limoncello

Beat the sugar and butter till light and fluffy, and then beat in the eggs bit by bit. I add a little flour with each egg to stop the mixture curdling.

BeFunky_Tilt-Shift_2.jpge
Grate in the lemon zest and then fold in the flour with a large spoon. Spoon into a loaf tin and bake in an oven heated to 180C.

While the cake is baking, juice the lemons and pour in the sugar and limoncello.

BeFunky_unnamed (3).jpg

After around half an hour, when the cake is baked, pour over the zesty, punchy drizzle and then sprinkle with a little sugar. This will form a sweet, sharp crust above the soft sponge.

After a dinner shared with the grandparents, I tore up a handful of thyme over the cake, and sliced through the sugar studded crust and lemon soaked crumb.

cake3

apple, blackberry & damson tarts

baking, fruit, recipe

The two apple trees in the centre of the lawn are the heart and soul of our garden.

BeFunky_image (38).jpgThey are over half a century old, and they show their history- bark like an old man’s hands, moss, trunks leading to a hundred branches. As they have grown and developed, so has the life that they support.

BeFunky_image (37).jpgRight now, the trees are at the best. Just as the first leaves are falling, the apples are ripening to emerald and crimson under the September sun.

BeFunky_image (35).jpg

Our crop of Discovery apples has been few, but the trees have been resting after their bumper crop last year. Just like us, sometimes the trees need to take a breather. And right now, in this brief September window, fruit trees and hedgerows are holding onto the produce of a years growth.

Just as the seasons change, I think the food on our plates should. These apple, blackberry and damson tarts are the kitchen’s idea of late summer and early autumn. All you need is some pastry, either shop bought or homemade (but whichever it is, all-butter), jam and fruit. And a spoonful of cinnamon. Each of the ingredients- damson jam, blackberries and the apples all offer sharpness as well as sweetness.

Pastry

as usual- double flour to butter- 230g plain flour, 115g butter

30g caster sugar

Filling

4 apples

a couple of handfuls of blackberries

jam- blackberry, blackcurrant, damson or plum would all work well

If you are making the pastry, rub the butter into the flour or whizz together in a processor.

BeFunky_image (20).jpg

When that’s done, add the sugar and just enough water to bring it together (about 2 tablespoons).

image (7)

Put the dough in the fridge, ready to roll out when the fillings done. For that, heat the jam in a small pan and squeeze in half a lemon. Lastly, peel and roughly chop the apples and mix the berries, apples and jam in the pan.

BeFunky_image (14).jpg

Roll out the pastry into circles to match your tart tins or one big sheet, and then pour over the fillings. Bake until the pastry is browning around the edges.

BeFunky_image (50).jpg

We all hear the message to eat seasonal, eat local, to reduce our food miles. But eating this way, from the garden to plate, is the way things are meant to be.

nights under canvas

Uncategorized

Mid August. We sit round a sputtering fire, summer rain falling, the sound of water flowing all around us. Our break is three nights away on a wild campsite. We swap screens for ink black skies, showers for a waterfall and bricks for canvas.BeFunky_10609454_10152341408476376_6523072020883075384_n.jpgStripping away luxuries and modern day add-ons energises and calms. The things we need- good food, good people, the natural world- are inherently good for us. And really we all know it. 

BeFunky_10552624_10204729269212638_2958970130783964932_n.jpgOn our second day, we followed Langstrath valley in Stonethwaite, to Black Moss Pot, a pool seemingly carved out for wild swimming. 

BeFunky_10609251_10204637926735955_751574773_n.jpgSimply by being outside, away from lights and laptops and roads, we felt more connected to the nature that surrounded us. It was short, but it was all we needed.

This post is dedicated to my sister, Jen Copestake, and to Jen Murphy, the best friend she ever had.

blackberry and almond cakes- a recipe

baking, fruit, gardening, recipe

Picking blackberries, like the berry itself, is bittersweet. Right now, it’s the height of summer, but by the time of the last of the berries, night will be longer than day, and the leaves will be falling to a bed of swirling fire.

BeFunky_10550933_10204709951049696_5025083744763073787_n.jpg

Alongside the blackberries, in the hedgerows, the first elderberries are ripening to a pearlescent black. Both berries can be found along pretty much any path or track right now, making these cakes both seasonal and forageable. The cakes would work with any berry, so use whatever you can forage for, or just scatter on your no.1 berry.

BeFunky_image[16].jpg

There’s no beating needed here, and with just 10 minutes baking, the result is light and crisp.

180g butter

50g flour

160g icing sugar

90g ground almonds

5 egg whites

a couple of handfuls of berries

Preheat the oven t 180C/c and melt the butter.

BeFunky_image[18].jpg

Pour the icing sugar, flour and almonds into a bowl.

Whisk the egg whites in another bowl until they form a light, floppy foam.

BeFunky_image[20].jpgMake a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, tip in the egg whites and butter and stir it all in. Then it’s ready to be poured into the muffin tins. 

BeFunky_image[2].jpg

Sprinkle in three or four chopped blackberries into each cake and bake for 10-15 minutes.

BeFunky_image[5].jpg

The berries stain the sponge with the blood of late summer. The texture is like a good brownie- soft, fudgy centre and a crispy coat.

BeFunky_image[12].jpgForage, bake, eat.

 

a breathing space and the bumblebee

gardening, growing, wildlife

In our little back garden, we are striving to do big things.BeFunky_Chromatic_1sunf.jpgThe human message of our outdoor spaces, from cities to farmland to gardens, is so often about control and manipulation. Instead of battling nature with sprays, powders and weedkillers, we celebrate the life that creeps and crawls, flits and flies.

BeFunky_10592608_10152306932396376_1623240755_n.jpgWhy not embrace the living things that move in naturally? Why not see the weeds as the wildflowers they really are?

BeFunky_10588683_10152306930781376_2137402374_n.jpgWe cannot rely on the odd nature reserve to sustain wildlife. We can start by maintaining our gardens as breathing spaces for ourselves and the life that inhabits it.

BeFunky_Chromatic_1cour.jpgWe have watched wildlife flourish and grow in our small patch of green. It has been a life affirming experience.

BeFunky_10588540_10152306932411376_619164706_n.jpgBut our garden is not just a breathing space for creepy crawlies. It’s productive too. The first carrots we harvested were spindly and mightn’t win first prize in a beauty contest, but crunching into them is a moment of summer that isn’t forgotten. BeFunky_Chromatic_1.jpgaJust like our own lives, as the seasons roll by, there is life and death, growth and decay. BeFunky_hen4.jpgIn quiet corners of our garden, we leave nature to do its thing. It mightn’t be neat, but it’s alive.

the chicken and the egg

chickens, gardening

Six years ago, we brought four hens home to our suburban back garden. Getting hens was a small move in a big world, but it signalled a change in our lives.

BeFunky_10556392_10152306931121376_6726050040842515697_n.jpgThe hens connected us to our food, made us think about how we want to treat farmed animals, and to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

BeFunky_2014-05-18 18hen2.jpgKeeping chickens transforms an egg from a store cupboard basic to a simple, precious pleasure.

Looking after animals still embedded in the natural world has reconnected us with the food on our plates and to the world around us.

Cracking frozen drinking water on a chilled December morning, the first egg as the days stretch out in early spring, to the hens scratching around dewy grass and frosted apples, has enriched our lives.

Now our scraps go out to hens, and their waste is composted down into rich, dark compost which we use to grow fruit and vegetables. Chicken shit is a good thing.

BeFunky_hen4.jpg

In our modern world of TVs and laptops, horror stories of animal abuse and processed food are many. Here, in our small back garden, there are good things happening.

BeFunky_BQ5pcZsCYAATic3.jpg

 

early summer and elderflower

baking, fruit, recipe

There are some things which mark the passing of each month, season and year. On the calendar- birthdays, bonfire night, Christmas, and outdoors- hedgerows bursting into leaf, and later on, blood-red, ruby and crimson berries ripening under the sun. Perhaps my favourite of these markers is the elder and its flower.

elderEvocative of early-British summer and most famous in cordials and cocktails, elderflowers are a fleeting moment of growth and scent and bygone days.

Here, we use them in alcohol, cakes and to simmer with sweet-sour gooseberries. We discovered elderflower gin last summer, crafted by the Edinburgh gin company.

This summer, we made our own.

BeFunky_Chromatic_1.jpgTwenty elderflower heads went into a glass bottle, along with a few tablespoons of sugar, and filled with gin. And after a week of gentle shaking and expectation, we tasted it… we’ll be sticking with the professionals next time!

The same evening, gooseberries were simmered in a heady mix of elderflower cordial and lemon juice. A sponge mixture was beaten up, topped with the gooseberries, and a crumble mix was scattered over the top.

We slid the cake into the hot oven. The air hung heavy in the kitchen with the scent of elderflower, citrus and homemade cake.

All cake is good cake, but this, this cake was perfect.

elder3

 

a risotto for midsummer

recipe, risotto

It’s July. The garden is bathing in a deep, midsummer light. The hens are dustbathing, honeybees are feeding on the wildflowers, and the peas are ripening in their pods. Tonight, its risotto- a pan of silky smooth rice, peas and flakes of pecorino. Sometimes, life is good.

BeFunky_peas1.jpgThe peas were planted indoors in March, and as the near-constant rain lashed down, the peas sprung up with a promise of summer and sweetness. A month or so on, they were dotted around the garden- in the borders, in tubs and anywhere-there-was-a-space. They grew up hawthorn, apple twigs and garden canes. The shoots and the snow-white flowers are as perfect as crunching into the first ripe pod of peas.

BeFunky_10352188_10204543537809469_1811135794742751499_n.jpgEight weeks on from planting those first peas in kitchen roll inners and a few inches of damp compost, the plants are a mass of emerald leaf, curling tendril and fattening pods.

BeFunky_10547449_10204543538169478_8799732549647781040_n.jpgTonight, they have been picked and stirred into a pan of risotto.

BeFunky_peasblog.jpgYes- you do have to stand for twenty minutes, stirring, ladling, stirring, but it’s a calming, soothing experience. Fry an onion and garlic until tender, pour in the rice (100g per person), stir, and then add a a ladleful of hot stock, stirring all the time. Once each ladleful of stock has been absorbed, the next is poured in and twenty minutes later, you have a pan of fragrant, silky rice.

BeFunky_peas3.jpgUse whatever you have to hand or is in season. I team up a vegetable with a herb and a cheese- tomatoes, basil, oregano and mozzarella, butternut squash, rosemary and parmesan, peas, mint and pecorino.

This risotto was finished with a few generous handlefuls of peas, butter, finely sliced mint and pecorino, and the plates with a few curls of the rich, grainy cheese. Dinner was served, and the auburn sun sank below the skyline as we ate and drank.