Sweet peas and thyme-roasted tomato soup

Comfort cooking and gardening never fail to cheer up a grey day.

Spring is peeping out from behind the curtain but thoughts of summer are on my mind today. Lunch was a thyme-roasted tomato soup – lighter than the hearty tomato, red pepper, chilli and butternut squash one we tucked into at the weekend. I sweated down a red onion and a couple of fat garlic cloves in olive oil, added the roast toms, a glug of passata and seasoning and blitzed it with a swirl of cream. Simples.

A quick jaunt to see my mate Tim at Bradfords to put the world to rights and order the annual bulk bag of compost; an hour in the (pretty bracing) fresh air pulling up the weeds which have germinated since the snow. Both set me up nicely …….and informed me that my knees are not what they once were. The sun put in a brief appearance so I sowed a few pots of sweet peas to stash in the greenhouse (held together with gaffer tape, since the great hurricane of early February). Wonder how long I can resist the urge to sow in earnest?

I’ve abandoned root trainers for sweet peas. They cost a fortune and take up too much space in the shed, which has become a road cyclist’s pit station. About ten seeds in a deep pot does the trick for me now This year I’ve sowed Wuthering Heights, Beaujolais, Our Harry, Kippen Cream and Nimbus. I sow enough for the half an acre plot of my dreams – just in case my ship comes in but what I can’t plant will head to the school flower patch where I’m on a mission to spread the gardening love.

Not a bad way to waste a few hours of your school hols. Now where’s the ibuprofen gel?

A Recycled Christmas


I know of people who take down their decorations on Boxing Day. I am not one of that breed. But there is an urge post-Christmas to use up leftovers, fill the latest bag for the charity shop and work out which day the bins are going to be collected.

We haven’t generated too much rubbish this year – experiences have featured highly rather than ‘stuff’, the young men of the house have large appetites, the Christmas tree is already booked in to be collected for chipping in January in aid of the local hospice and we have no sparkly wrapping paper, having decided to wrap our gifts in brown paper, string or ribbon, cinammon sticks, dried orange slices and greenery from the garden. All of this can either be reused, composted or will light and fragrance our log fire.

It’s good to start the new year without rubbish and clutter even though our decs will remain up until Twelfth Night.

Family time

christmas baking

December 23rd – Pyjama mornings, orange drizzle and gingerbread cookies

No rugby, cycling or football refereeing commitments for anyone. The tone today was uber relaxed. Nothing to stop me watching Watership Down with my daughter in pyjamas, munching toast and drinking coffee. Nothing to say I couldn’t finish the ironing whilst listening to the Archers  before getting dressed; no stress over baking gingerbread cookies and an orange drizzle with a pinch of cloves thrown in to celebrate the season and a quick dash to the shop for emergency icing sugar  during which I bumped into an old neighbour and we had a catch up, marvelling about how quickly our seven children have grown up. 

Bumper crops

it’s been a good year for elderberries. One of the plants I’m going to miss most on the allotment is the huge elder tree which has provided me with a good crop of flowers in spring and berries in early autumn. Fortunately there are numerous foraging opportunities within a stone’s throw of home as I have no room for an elder in the garden. Since writing about elderberry cordial and pontack I’ve discovered the delights of elderberry tincture, which is – if anything – even easier to make.

Elderberry tincture is a delicious homemade medicine which can be taken when you feel a cold or virus is about to take hold, making use of the plants antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Strip the ripe berries off the stalks into a glass jar and cover with  brandy.  Leave for two weeks, shaking every day. Then strain the mixture through a sieve lined with muslin, bottle up and label. Take  1-3ml 3 times daily as required.

Delicious and oh so good for you.

Hedge Veg

Whilst holidaying in Guernsey this year we stumbled across Hedge Veg, a relatively informal garden gate market stall arrangement where residents sell veg, flowers, fruit, jams,  chutneys, honey, plants and even second hand books from boxes placed in the hedgerow near their homes. Of course the 35 mph or less speed limit on the island helps you spot goodies as you drive by. Some boxes were well stocked whilst others were empty for the whole week but wouldn’t it be a good thing if Hedge Veg made an appearance in your neighbourhood? Or perhaps it already has. It makes a change from the leaving your glut of runner beans or courgettes on your neighbour’s doorsteps under cover of darkness.

The Christmas Chronicles, Part I – Door wreaths and horticultural projects

I’d forgotten how much full-time teaching is so all-enveloping. You find yourself spinning in a vortex of lesson preparation, marking, exams, reports, meetings, extra revision sessions for keen students and duty nights for weeks and then, at the end of term it spits you out and you land with an almighty thud, able to pick up the pieces of the rest of your life which have had scant attention since the last school holidays.

Term ended earlier for me than for my children – one bonus of teaching on Saturdays – and since then I have had time to mooch around Bath doing some Christmas shopping, watch the middlest child’s football match, clutching a thermos mug of coffee and wearing a bobble hat on a foggy Sunday afternoon, buy a Christmas Tree at vast expense (but Woodland Trust certified), decorate the house and buy a holly wreath handwoven by Joe, who has learning difficulties but has found his niche on a horticulture project. I’m so pleased to see that gardening still has the power to transform the lives of young people who don’t always fit into a rigid school system. If you want to make your own wreath then you can always visit Our Flower Patch (our educational project which seems like light years ago) where Sara will guide you through the process.

And so ends episode one of my own Christmas Chronicles, (name inspired by Nigel Slater’s new book). In addition to the above I’ve made Christmas pot pourri, written and posted most of the Christmas cards, had the annual conversation with my sister about whose turn it is for the Christmas wreath on our parents grave and reminisced about dad opening the Christmas chocolates early and the year Mum bought such a monster of a turkey that we had to saw off its legs to fit it in the oven, hunted down a mini-poinsettia, decorated the fireplace with some new red baubles, dug out the wrapping paper and ribbons and thought about the Christmas foodfest….. at a relaxing pace.

Today the whiff of just made red onion marmalade scents the kitchen and my typing is frequently interrupted by the son with a throat infection looking for hot drinks and ‘food I can eat’. Homemade soup, apple crumble and stem ginger cookies await.

Betwixt and Between

20161227_143238I’ve been getting creative in the downtime between Christmas and New Year. A more organised woman would have done this before Christmas and given away a few scented bags full as homemade gifts but organisation has escaped me this year.

And so a basket full of scented firelighters graces our own hearth to create a delightful orange-scented blaze throughout the twelve days of  Christmas and beyond.

To make them couldn’t be simpler. Melt a tealight minus its foil casing in a paper cake case in the oven for a  few minutes. Then add a drop of orange essential oil to each case along with a slice of  dried orange, a pine cone and a cinnamon stick.  Leave the wax to cool and harden. Then pop them into a basket to sit alongside your hearth.

Oil of cloves or myrrh work equally well at this time of  year. For Sumner firepits try lavender or rose oil. Pack up in cellophane wrap and tie with a pretty ribbon and gift label if you want something homemade to give as a gift.

Simple, practical and creative. The perfect way to while away a Winter afternoon.


Plant potions

Calendula salve, an easy make for children
Calendula salve, an easy make for children

Today at The Courts, despite a forecast of torrential rain and thunderstorms we had a lot of fun under the trees making ‘plant potions’. To many children ,particularly those who have experienced the delights of forest schools, plant potions usually means mixing up mud, sticks, leaves and water to make a sludgy brew. It’s great fun. Today however, rather a lot of children and quite a few interested adults went home clutching bags of beautifully scented pot pourri and recipes for comfrey feed, calendula salve and hints and tips for drying flowers, cooking with lavender, how to make dandelion jelly and why nettles are good for you, good for the wildlife in your garden and have dozens of uses. There are a thousand and one useful things that can be made from your flower patch

I promised a few people that I would pop up links to posts I’d included previously. Just click on the appropriate highlighted links above. I also said that I would include the recipe for calendula salve, which is one recommended to me ages ago by permaculturist and all-round good egg Carl Legge. Click on Cally’s Plant Potion Recipes for the recipe sheet we handed out today. Thanks to Jane Ingram for the design.

With a little supervision, even young children can make something useful and which looks professional enough to give as a gift. Calendula is one of those plants which has been used by herbalists since ancient times. It is known to have anti: allergic; inflammatory; microbial and oxidant properties. So it’s perfect for treating cuts and grazes bruises, sores and rashes. We always keep a jar handy in a kitchen drawer.

Calendula is one of my favourite flowers. It looks so jolly, is great for bees, cuts well for the vase and as well as made into a salve it can be eaten in salads or, as my granny used to do, added when making butter to make it beautifully yellow. The seeds are rather quirky too and look almost as though they might crawl out of your hand. They are easy to sow, grow well and self seed prolifically. Children can also collect the seed very easily and pack them up to give away to friends. A perfect addition to any garden, as far as I am concerned.

The remembrance of things past


the past viewed at The Ashmolean
the Roman past viewed at The Ashmolean

I’ve been using lavender furniture polish for the first time in decades. It’s startling how the aroma it leaves around the house can recall so keenly all the Sundays of my youth spent sitting in the choir stalls of a rural Pembrokeshire church. Is this true of everyone or am I peculiar in remembering events best on the strength of what they smelt like? (See below).

Perhaps it’s natural for a woman of my age, whose children are fast growing into young adults to think back a little more than she was wont to do. Or perhaps it comes as a result of returning to the study of Latin – and more specifically the Cambridge Latin Course (Chanel no. 5)- which was one of the highlights of my school Tuesdays and Thursdays, along with double hockey (muscle rub) and spiced apple crumble (cinammon and cloves). As you see, all my memories are carefully intertwined with the odours surrounding them.

My return to the Cambridge Latin Course comes as a result of funding from the DfE which is there to encourage non specialist teachers to train to make Latin available to state school pupils. Universities love a student who has studied Latin apparently, especially those hoping to study Law, Medicine, Languages, Ancient History and English Literature. And with a dwindling number of specialists able to teach Latin, it makes sense to find more creative ways to make it available. My recent six day course at Oxford University was one of these. It wasn’t a PGCE course in six days  (This was what the visiting lady from the DfE suggested!!!?) but a week’s intensive study for those who were already qualified and experienced teachers with some knowledge of Latin.

I started teaching a fast track GCSE course last week in a Wednesday twilight session for A level students. (I’m not one to hand around as you know.) We’re using the Cambridge Latin Course but (as ever) I’m tweaking it to make it a truly worthwhile experience and giving value for money by using it to hone A level study skills and to make links between Latin studies and that of their other A level subjects. There’s space for a few more students on Wednesdays in my kitchen (which will smell of freshly brewed coffee and cake of some description). Email me for details if you or someone you know might be interested.

And if you’re interested in lavender furniture polish, here’s how…..

Homemade lavender furniture polish recipe

I had some beeswax leftover from making calendula salve over the summer and grated that into some olive oil from my cupboard. 2 parts olive oil to 1 part grated beeswax or thereabouts. Fill a jug with olive oil up to 200 mls and grate enough beeswax into it to bring the measure up to 300 mls.

Place the mixture into an old saucepan and melt very slowly… the work of minutes. Add about 12 drops of lavender.Take it off the heat and stir gently. Leave to cool for a few minutes, stir again then pour it straight into a shallow wide mouthed jar.

And that’s it! Smells great, no nasty chemicals, useful and inexpensive. Packaged nicely it would make a great addition to a Christmas hamper for a friend or a present for a teacher.


Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑