Now that the days are getting lighter, I’m going to sow a few sweet peas in pots in a sheltered spot to plant out in Spring.
I used to sow sweet peas in individual root trainers but now I sow a few in a deep pot, the kind in which I start the dahlias off. The don’t mind the cold but I protect them from the worst of the rain until they are ready for transplanting.
My heart goes out to anyone struggling through dark times. I am especially mindful of teaching colleagues who have worked through fourteen weeks, standing in front of hundreds of unmasked children indoors for five or six hours a day and now find they cannot visit or be visited by their own children and grandchildren. At the Winter solstice we need hope that lighter and warmer days will return.
How timely then that Saturn and Jupiter will appear brighter and closer than they have for several hundred years in the sky tonight. A serendipitous reminder that if you fix your eyes on the light the darkness is that little bit easier to negotiate.
Saturdays in December are not for schoolwork. And so today we headed to Stourhead for a pre-booked walk, a mince pie and hot drink in the cafe and a spot of Christmas present shopping before picking up our Christmas tree from a farm in Rode. No stress, no fuss. Just relaxing family time. It did feel somewhat strange without the boys but by the end of next weekend we will be back together again and hitting the Christmas Monopoly tournament with a vengeance before the last week of term. December Saturdays are precious, perfect opportunities to recharge the batteries. This year many more people are appreciating a slow build up to Christmas, appreciating what they have, what they can make and how actions and experiences speak louder than ‘stuff’.
The whole world is carving pumpkins – or so it seems. Nothing wrong with that , except the staggering amount of pumpkin pulp that ends up in landfill every year. That makes me sad when there is absolutely NO NEED for it. So how do we deal with this little pickle?
Teach your children to be responsible. At the very least pop your pulp on the compost heap. If you don’t have one, start one. You’ll find plenty if advice here.
Just one postscript to the ideas above – if you’re leaving it as a snack for squirrels or birds, pop it off the ground. Hedgehogs will suffer if they munch on it. And if you’re lucky enough to have a hedgehog visit your garden, you’ll want to look after him or her.
We usually make pumpkin soup with plenty of ginger and chilli to cut through the gloopiness of the pumpkin. A warming treat on a dreary day and uber-freezable too. Recipe below.
You’ll need 1 tablespoon olive oil, 50g butter a small pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and diced, 2 onions, diced, 3 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 red chilli, finely chopped, a thumb-sized piece root ginger, grated, 900ml vegetable stock, 50g coconut cream, pinch coriander leaves to garnish.
Heat the oil and butter in a pan, then over a medium heat sweat the pumpkin, onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
Add the chilli and ginger, then cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the hot stock, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the butternut squash is soft.
Blend in batches until smooth.
Reheat gently before adding the coconut cream. Season to taste and serve garnished with a few coriander leaves.
The clocks have gone back, the sun sets earlier, as we head towards Samhain it’s time for reflection. Here at Country Gate we’ve lit the first log fires of the season, candles accompany our supper time chats and soups and stews have already begun to replace the salads of the summer.
Every season has its pleasures. Winter is a time for looking back and planning forward, for hunkering down with those you love – if you can this year, for going on nature rambles, clearing the clutter from your life and hitting pause.
Samhain itself is a time for all of the above and for thinking fondly of those who have died, whose presence has gone from our lives even though I’m sure our lives are still touched by them.
I was interested to read a little about how Samhain is celebrated traditionally. Here are the seven ideas that were mentioned a lot.
Go on a nature walk. We’ve booked Stourhead on Saturday.
Build an altar using seasonal fruits. Our kitchen windowsill is home to an impromptu collection of windfall quince, squash, conkers and hazelnuts. That will do.
Light candles. An everyday occurrence
Hold a ceremony. Build a goddess figure from garden prunings. Bring it inside and lay a place at the table. That’s a bit too wicker man for me but I will do some garden pruning.
Have a bonfire. Walk around it and make plans for the coming season. The bonfire at least will happen.
Hit pause – meditate, keep a reflective diary. Yes. Yes. Yes. Such a good thing to do.
Connect with your community. Spent a lovely hour with some old friends last night talking about the support the village has mobilised for individuals over the last few months, what more can be done, drinking wine, and tasting quince ice cream made from some of our tree’s bounty this year. Highly recommended.
Some people spent lockdown learning Swedish, writing a novel or taking on an allotment. Virtual learning and preparing to move schools curtailed my usual creativity. No elderberries were harvested and so there is no usual elderberry tincture in the pantry to stave off those usual Winter colds and boost my immune system.
Consequently I indulged myself and ordered an elixir from Sweet Bee Organics. It’s the business but hugely expensive. I’m going to find time to make my own using freeze dried elderberries rather than fresh this year. I’ll blog the recipe and provide step by step instructions in due course.
This year’s Christmas cake is in the oven – an annual half term job. More than ever this year I feel the need to prepare for a truly memorable Christmas. Nothing fancy – just the simple pleasures of family walks, log fires, books, board games and comfort food. I am a Celtic mother after all.
I used Mary Berry’s Christmas cake recipe this year but substituted honey for treacle, cut out the nuts as some of the family don’t care for them and used my own special mix of dried fruits. The fruit was liberally soaked in brandy for four days prior to cooking (obviously) and will be fed once a week with more brandy until Christmas – if I remember. Sometimes I don’t- but the cake is all the better for getting slowly sozzled.
I enjoy October Half Term more than any other holiday with its colourful Autumn walks, bulb planting and tidying up the garden, store cupboard cooking for Christmas, bonfires and domestic chores. The gutters have been cleared and cleaned, the firewood chopped and stacked, the quince tree mostly harvested, the dresser cleaned and polished with beeswax and the tree surgeon and oven cleaning guru are booked to do their magic over the next few weeks. The latter, I admit is a bit of an indulgence but I treated myself and my still-broken arm. Full time teaching in a new school during a pandemic, all the while without proper use of one arm needs rewarding somehow. A professional oven clean and a vastly expensive bottle of elderberry tincture to ward off the usual school lergi should be just the job.
We dodged the showers and headed to Avebury for some much-needed fresh air and vitamin D today. One of the few National Trust properties that you can still just turn up to without booking, it’s long been a family favourite.
In Summer there’s usually a cricket match happening on the pitch near the car park; but I love it best in Autumn and Winter when there are fewer folk around and the tramp around the stones is either bracing or an altogether more meditative affair, accompanied by a dank atmospheric mist. Occasionally you’ll find someone playing a recorder leaning against the gnarled trunk of an ancient tree, as if guarding the entrance to a wormhole, making a spot of time travel seem almost possible.
Today’s excursion, like the weather was bitter sweet as it was our first ever family trip without the boys, who are both away at Uni. I have so many happy memories of time spent at Avebury – climbing trees, Winter picnics, summer hikes, visits to the second hand bookshop, treasure trails with friends and the time the middle son was stung by a wasp and the cafe kitchen produced a bottle of honey vinaigrette dressing in lieu of vinegar to treat it.
Doubtless we’ll return in December when all the family is back together.
I was too late booking tickets for a brisk Autumn walk around Stourhead today. Usually we can just check out the weather and pop over; in pandemic times we have to plan a week ahead.
As it happens, the weather was pretty grim. Instead I turned on the oven and used a few of our home-grown apples to whip up a batch of cinnamon apple muffins. I may pop in some toffee to the next batch for bonfire night. These however were perfect for an afternoon treat in front of the fire with a good book.
Stourhead is booked for next weekend and there’s a Wales v France rugby match on the TV later. Rainy days rarely get me down.
To make the muffin sift into a bowl 300g plain flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Stir in 4 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks and 100g brown sugar.
Mix together 2 beaten eggs, 180 ml milk and 125 g butter melted and cooled.
Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until combined. Don’t over mix.
Scoop evenly into 12 muffin cases. Sprinkle with some demerera sugar. Bake at 180 in a fan oven for 20 mins.