The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that at the start of this month, this blog was a year old. Amazingly, I have been writing down my musings on life, the allotment and our kitchen for a full twelve month period. What’s more people seem to be interested in what I write. It has been a truly humbling experience to read the comments that many of you have left.
I started the blog as a way of documenting aspects of my life as I made a big change in my life. A year ago I was preparing for the beginning of the school term knowing that it was the first time in 15 years that I would not be greeting a new class and getting to grips with 30 new names. Instead I was preparing for the start of my children’s school year and the school run every morning and afternoon. During the period I had had off work sick, the allotment and my kitchen had provided me with some solace and I hoped that sharing some of this with the world may help me in my recovery from depression and anxiety. A year on I am undoubtedly in a better place. I still have low days (weeks occasionally) and can be easily irritated by the most simple of things; but the crippling anxious fear and overwhelming sadness I faced last year has subsided. To some extent this is due in part to the blog and the fact that I made the decision to be open about how I was feeling. Its meant I have accepted how I felt, and many people have commented about similar feelings, as well as offering support.
Having time-out from working, and perhaps most significantly, time-in with the family, has enabled me to re-evaluate what I want from life. I realised that I need to spend time on my own more, I need to socialise more, I need to be creative, I need to cook…..the list goes on. Over the year I’ve had the chance to work out what I want to do, and how it may allow me to have a happier life. So, this September I’m starting another chapter of my life. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be launching into the world of work again. This time, not as a teacher, but as a baker. Baking bread has been real therapy for me; the slow, physical, process of baking real bread is a really mindful act and I want to share that with others. I’m going to start baking; initially on my own, but with the idea of establishing a Community Bakery project, where people can come together and bake for the local community.
Its a bit of a change, but one that excites me, and (if you knew how I felt a year or so ago) being excited about something is a big step.
We always end up having egg whites left over from cooking. Apart from meringue, which can be used to make a favourite of our family, Eton Mess; I struggle to find uses for these leftover whites. I recently discovered friands; a version of the classic French financier which is popular in the antipodes. These little cakes use almond flour and lightly whipped egg whites to form a delicious sweet morsel, which compliments the acidity of raspberries brilliantly.
You will need (makes 24 small friands)
4 egg whites
A dash of Rosewater
60g margarine melted
125g ground almonds
250g cups gluten-free icing sugar
70g gluten-free plain flour
A dash of sunflower oil
150g frozen raspberries
50g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 180°C. Beat egg whites for 1 minute or so until they are frothy, but not firm. Add the milk to the melted margarine and dash of Rosewater, before combining with egg whites. Fold ground almonds into mix using a wooden spoon, before sifting the icing sugar and flour into the bowl, then gently folding it all together. The less the mixture is moved around at this point, the lighter the friands. Grease a 12-cup mini muffin (or friand )tin with a little oil, then spoon equal amounts into 12 holes. Press 2 raspberries in each friend, so they are covered with mixture and then top with a few flaked almonds.
Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to touch on the centre. Leave in pan for a few minutes before turning friands out onto a wire rack to cool.
Whilst tomatoes should have been planted out by now, you can still get them from nurseries and garden centres, ready grown and ready to nurture to cropping. The smell of fresh tomatoes, let alone the unbeatable taste of fruits picked from the vine, makes growing them well worth it.
Once your tomato plants have grown to about a foot in height, support them with a cane or stick at their side which you can use to tie them into as they grow. It’s importance to tie the. plants to a cane before they have a chance to drop, as this encourages them to grow up and produce more fruiting spurs. As they grow, pinch out all side shoots of your cordon tomatoes, but you can leave the bush types well alone to fill out. Once cordons have formed six or so fruiting trusses you should pinch out the tops. In reality I tend to let them hit the roof of the greenhouse, then pinch out the tips.
I under-plant my tomatoes with basil, as basil and tomato go together. It makes it easy to make a basil and tomato salad, but also has a preventative effect on aphids. Companion planting with French marigolds – tagetes – also works as the aphids will be repelled by their smell. Watering is crucial for consistently good fruits. Before the flowers have formed, water once a week or so and feed once a fortnight. Once the flowers and fruit have formed, water twice a week and feed once a week. What tomatoes don’t like is inconsistent watering, this tends to lead to splits and problems with bottom rot. Like children, they appreciate a routine and will repay you when they are looked after in a consistent way.
Once ready ripe, keep picking, this will help to extend the harvest as long as possible. It also means you can use them in a range of delicious recipes. Check out some tomato recipes here.
Prone to late frosts, cold winds and slugs, now is the time to grow French beans. I planted out my climbing bean Cornetti Meraviglia di Venezia last week, but only sowed Dwarf French bean Boby Bianco in situ in the last few days. The dwarf varieties work well, allowing a bumper crop without the need for supports. They also are the best to grow if you want to extend the season and grow under cover. Beans are best sown into moist soil that is rich in organic matter, a few centimetres deep and initially under cloches. To get a succession of crops, sow every month or so until late summer. As the plants develop and get flowers, make sure that you water regularly, as this will encourage more flowers and thus more beans. A mulch of organic matter around the base of the plants helps to retain the moisture and also gives a nutritional boost to the plants. You can also use a tomato feed (or something similar like comfrey or nettle ‘tea’) to help encourage the development of more pods.
Pick the beans regularly to keep them producing. They are at their best when their slim pods hide the beans seeds perfectly, and the flesh snaps crisply. If you’re unable to devour all the beans available when they’re at their best, just blanch in boiling water for a minute or so and open-freeze, before transferring to freezer bags. They cook brilliantly from frozen when needed.
Beans also do a great job of improving the soil even after their harvest. They enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen in nodules of bacteria on their roots. To capture this nutritional boost, cut off the stems of the plants at ground level when they have finished cropping, leaving the roots to enrich the soil.
Bread is the lifeline of millions of people across the world, with 99% of UK households buying bread it is undoubtedly a integral part of our diet. On a basic level it’s a simple prepared food, and as such the basic ingredients haven’t changed in thousands of years. I love baking and I love the whole process of making a loaf; its a very mindful thing, offering time to think and allowing you to do something physical which has a satisfying end product.
I’ve made bread on and off over the last few years, but recently I’ve been getting more in to it. Although not working at the very early times of commercial bakers, making and kneading the dough before the school run has become a good way for me to start the day. With the positive benefits of bread on my mental wellbeing in mind, I discovered Bread Club. It’s been set up by a community social enterprise run by Community Chef in nearby Lewes. The basic premise is that communities used to have their own bakeries and everyone had a relationship with the baker, the oven, the community bread; and this is something which we should reinvigorate. In addition, the mindful nature of bread making is something we can all benefit from. Bread Club in Lewes is a group of people who produce real bread for subscribers to the club, providing those who subscribe with weekly fresh, lovingly crafted bread.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started a course of bread making training with Bread Club and the Community Chef, with a view to developing a similar project in Hove. Though a stressful experience in many ways (I still find meeting new people a challenge); working with a small group of bread lovers, making bread and enjoying lunch, has been a highlight of my week. So far we’ve focused on the basics of bread and how the different variables can be controlled to get a great loaf, as well as developing an understanding of enriched doughs. We always leave holding bags bulging with warm bread, and I fill the train home with amazing bread aromas. I can’t wait until next week.
I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!
Spade Fork Spoon has been nominated in the Brilliance in Blogging Awards in the food category. This is amazing and I’m dead chuffed, especially as there are so many amazing food blogs out there. I started the blog as a way of documenting the change from being a full-time teacher, to becoming a stay-at-home Dad; spending time in the kitchen and at the allotment, as well as spending quality time with my family. Cooking and growing fruit and veg has really helped me to become a happier person and I really feel it can help me as I continue my journey and I blog about my recipes for a changed life. It’s so nice to think that what I write about is liked and appreciated by others; and even liked to the point of actually nominating me. Thank you whoever you are!
You can see the other amazing blogs who made the shortlist on the BiBs2014 website
; and if you can see your way to voting for Spade Fork Spoon
, then you can do so by clicking on the badge below.
I’m very proud to have been nominated by someone for the Best Food Blog at The MADS (Mum and Dad blogging awards). Thank you whoever you are; I’m chuffed that anyone reads the blog, but to have someone nominate me for an award is special! If you too want to vote for me, or any one of the amazing blogs out there, you can do so by following the link or clicking on the image above.