Lean pickings from the garden this month:
- Handfuls of purple sprouting broccoli
- Fresh hebs (sage, rosemary, parsley – curly & flat leafed)
The broccoli is finally getting going – and the trick is to pick out the main head that forms (this isn’t Calabrese remember, this is Purple Sprouting) and then pick regularly to get fresh, tender stalks, leaves and flower heads. Watch in wonder as the water turns purple as it boils the veg and the broccoli itself turns green!
However, this is what happened to a lot of the plants… munched by vermin? Ideas, tips & advice at getting the best from broccoli all welcomed at this point…
It was an exciting month in the nursery. Lobelia, Viola, Livingstone Daisy, Pansy, Snapdragon & Nasturtiums are all romping away and Sunflowers are sizeable and keen to get planted out. Only the Impatiens didn’t take – not warm enough for the seeds yet I suspect, so I may try again in March now that the sun is showing it’s strength more often.
The tobacco seeds germinated! Having resigned myself to not being able to force Steve to end his unhealthy relationship with tobacco, I am now simply focused on saving us money. If I grow enough plants to feed Steve’s addition for a year I’ll save the household €1,000 – a not insignificant sum in our frugal world. I have found the most wonderful Hub about growing tobacco, authored by a guy who doesn’t even smoke the stuff but plants it amongst his cabbages to deter the cabbage butterfly. If you’ve got some time to kill you can lose it reading his hub and the 3 year’s worth of comments…
Other successes on the germination front: oleander & the perennial flower mix! The tedious bit is now the pricking out & potting on but it is worth investing in these beauties as they are for the long haul, not just for a summer.
I have 9 strong little pepper plantlets. Basil (Purple & Genovese), Chives & Coriander are all growing away – a few more weeks and I’ll be picking my favourite herbs fresh from their pots.
And fresh seeds in pots at the end of the month: tomatoes, comfrey, more peppers & mint.
Baking & Making
Here’s my new favourite thing to eat for breakfast: Polenta & banana fritters!!!
An abundance of polenta (it’s one of those things that I always make too much of – the instructions are for the whole packet and I always realise too late that this is overkill…) usually gets made into savoury burgers for lunch the next day. This time I decided to try something different & mashed half a banana into the (now solid) polenta until it was well mixed & soggy enough to form into a couple of fritters. I lightly coated them with gluten-free flour & fried them in a little oil for 5 minutes each side until golden brown. A drizzle of Golden Syrup completes the taste sensation…
Sarah Winman’s intriguingly titled “When God was a Rabbit” had me all excited before I even opened it to begin. The cover is a real draw, especially when dotted about with reviews containing such bold & appealing words as ‘captivating’ and ‘beguiling’. (I couldn’t help it though, I fell into every stereotypical trap and couldn’t contain a smirk at Good Housekeeping’s ‘Mesmerizing’, idly wondering what the benchmark of mesmerization (made-up word alert??!) actually IS for Good Housekeeping readers… And now of course I will be inundated by readers be-swearing the virtues of said magazine and will have to admit that, since they are also reading this blog, they do have good taste after all).
It IS a gem of a book and – I rarely, if ever, say this – one I may read again. My passage through this book was interrupted. By a journey to the UK. I lost the flow of the book and had to flick back & forth to pick up relationships and key events, which spoiled the enjoyment somehow. This is a book to be given one’s full attention. Read it carefully and savour every word. There’s an awful lot in it. I loved the fact that big things happened with small words and vice versa; the undertones, the barely dared to be mentioned stuff – this is all important and yes… beguiling.
The characters in this book are rich and delightful, yet the key ones, Elly & Joe, seemed slightly incomplete. After shaking off the sense of dissatisfaction, I found that the lack of ’shading in’ was actually a wonderful gift… it left real room for interpretation and somehow the unfinished edges made the characters more real (who is fully rounded and totally boxed off anyway, right???). The range of this book is astonishing – in how far it takes the reader to extremes (chuckling great gurgles of laughter fade to grief and back again); in the variety of characters formed and cherished here (all ages & persuasions) and in it’s homage to love in all its forms. This is Ms Winman’s talent, amongst other things.
Sarah Winman achieves some extraordinary things with this book. I can’t say more without giving stuff away but if you read it, I hope you share my love of Arthur and chuckle at his involvement with a coconut.
This is a beautiful first novel. I hear she has written a second and I will surely be hunting it down.
Having dug over the beds, it was time to get cracking on re-laying the pipes for the irrigation system. Remarkably these pipes (in the ground for 2 years by now) were pretty unscathed. Just the odd one split by over-enthusiastic forking last Spring. I expected them to be clogged up with roots and soil but on the whole, no!
Steve did a really good job at burying the pipes deep and securing them on a bed of gravel, then covered with sand. Rain stopped work half way through the month so there are still 3 beds to go before this task is complete.
There will be no camping without a fully functioning waster water system so there’s much to be done in the next 2 months to get our system ready for the (please God!) deluge of guests and their watery needs!
In complete contrast to working outside in the gardens in the sun, I took off to the UK mid February to dance the Corporate dance again and meet myself anew as a Learning & Development Consultant. It was a tough assignment (untested material; ’seat-of-the-pants’ re-developments in response to participants’ needs and trainers’ limitations; and a very demanding group of learners…) but I was working with some awesome talent.
The woman who can barely drag her bones out of bed before 8.30am (that would be me then…) and slobs about in torn & worn clothes that a body can cook, garden & walk a dog in comfortably (yup, still me…) was suddenly bouncing out of bed at 6.00am, donning ironed clothes no less (seriously, I don’t normally iron anything!) and looking smart & composed all day (“massive poise” was in fact what my colleague described me as having). And they were long days, with frantic re-working of the programme going on in the evenings over dinner back at the hotel until 9-10pm. I’m very proud of what we achieved and relieved at how fast I was able to get back into work mode and how effective I was in the end. I rocked up feeling slightly insecure about my level of involvement and left feeling I’d made a real difference.
And what of the real work back in Monte – that of marketing our business effectively & running a campsite that people will flock to in their droves…?! Well, whilst I was in the UK earning cash to keep us afloat until the summer, Steve was getting busy raising our profile. And these days with his fancy new (well new to him anyway…) phone, he tweets too. (You can follow us on Twitter: @CampFullMonte). The good news is that we have a couple of bookings already – deposits taken, tents booked, job done. The really good news is that people that visited us last year are coming back this year, so the Full Monte Experience must be giving people what they want. However, we needs lots more people, more of the time this year and whilst we know that most of customers book only a few weeks or days in advance and some simply turn up, it would be nice to be sitting on a comforting number of pre-bookings before our season starts…
Volunteers made a huge difference last year, not only in terms of helping get jobs done but also in building community with us. We’ve revamped the volunteer page of our website, trying to attract long-term, committed talent to join our core team as well as casual helpers and folk who want to work on specific projects for short periods of time. We’ve got a few interesting potentials lined up to join us as Team Members for July, August & September so now we’re just looking for volunteers in May & June. If you’re reading this & thinking you’d like to do something different (whilst working on your tan!) contact us…
There was not a lot of time for socialising in the UK but I packed a lot into the little time I did have. The Vine-Pettitt’s were my lovely hosts the night of my arrival. The coach didn’t get me to Essex until after 10pm and since there are small children in the house I didn’t expect much more than a cuppa and a quick chat. However, my brilliant (but unconscious) timing put me there in half term week so no getting up at the crack for school etc. I arrived to find Mick & Nik chilling with daughter No# 2, Kate, who is still as funny as ever except now she is a fully formed young lady and has pink hair (I still remember her as the angelic flower girl at our wedding so this takes some adjusting to). Mick had taken the following day off work so he wouldn’t have to get up early either and we set about celebrating with 2 bottles of wine. These are good people and solid mates, firmly rooted in my past but travelling with me (albeit mostly virtually) into my future. Too many years had been & gone since we’d swapped stories & shared giggles and it was important to reconnect with them again. And then there was Hugo & Lily – the smaller members of the mob. Hugo didn’t really know me at all and Lil barely remembered me so it was great to have time with them in the morning, despite not being able to convert any of them to the Marmite & Jam Combo as the perfect start to the day.
I had a lovely day with my parents, swapping stories, meeting the chickens, eating nice food and doing the ordinary stuff like taking the dog for a walk and watching a favourite quiz programme of their’s before leaving to begin my journey North.
In Coventry I met with Kezzer after 4 long years. I drank cider in a couple of pubs until I was tipsy and we got a kebab on the way home – chilli sauce heaven.
Onto Liverpool where I met my new best friend, the adorable Molly Sue Searle:
It was great to hug Jess again and spend the day hanging out but sadness continues to reign in the extended family, with Sue’s sister dying of cancer, so inevitably it took the edge of our happiness. Nick is the doting Daddy and it was wonderful seeing the love he has for both his girls. Gone are the raving days for now though – the young Mum and working Dad need their sleep so after a delicious moussaka and a nice bottle of wine we all crashed out early.
The next day I had to make my way back to Bucks via the M40. I’d heard that a bunch of mates were meeting in Oxford for a friend’s birthday so I took a little detour to the Park & Ride on the outskirts of Oxford, hopped on a bus into town and surprised the birthday boy Vince, and his missus Ditsch. It was a quick drink and a catch up but lovely to see everyone and get actual rather than virtual hugs!
Back at the farm that evening, me & John some quality time together whilst Anita & the kids watched a film next door. John cooked fish which was delicious and then we gorged ourselves on cheese and other goodies. We giggled, tried to do The Times cryptic crossword and generally just hung out. He’s a very poorly soul right now, on a strict diet and lots of drugs to try to control his severe IBD, so it felt really important to be there for him – listening, sharing…
My final play day in the UK was a real treat and very unexpected. Anita decided she needed a day away from work, the farm & everyone on it so spontaneously decided on Friday night that us girls should go to London the following day. We spent the evening googling like crazy: to figure out what time train we should take; what we should see/ do and where we should eat. Saturday was a glorious day – bright & sunny, to match our mood! We let the train take the strain into London and headed to Pimlico tube for our first stop: Tate Britain. Oh how I LOVE the Tate. Anita had never been and it was a joy to introduce it to her. The Clore Gallery was a wonder, as ever. And there was a fantastic exhibition of Modern British Art, with some really stunning pieces. The Picasso Exhibition was a pay-to-enter and we were on a tight budget and a full itinerary so we gave it a miss. I can’t describe how precious those few hours were in the beautiful space that is the Tate. It was wonderful, uplifting and incredibly impressive. I always feel slightly disorientated after a while , there is SO much to absorb and the change of pace and texture and form that gets one stepping in close to see fine detail and then stepping right back for the visual effect of large scale pieces makes me quite giddy. It’s all part of the experience though and I leave feeling like I am about to pop.
Stepping out into London’t best Spring sun, I felt like I’d been holding my breath. I inhaled deeply and took in the beauty around me as we walked along the embankment. We walked past the Houses of Parliament to Westminster Abbey where we did the full tour (our one extravagance, £16, but it was Anita’s hearts desire and frankly she deserved it). It was full of tourists, all wandering around (like us) with headsets listening to the audio commentary of which King, Queen or VIP is buried where. It is basically a big and elaborate mausoleum, with endless tombs and shrines to Royalty and the like. It is an impressive building but I spent the whole time wishing all the other people would bugger off and leave me in peace. The best part of the visit was right at the end, when Anita and I sat in The Cloisters listening to the choir warm up next door. I lit a candle for Sue and for Den and hoped the sisters would find peace with each other soon…
Thanks to a tip off from Anita’s brother, Reuben, we headed over to the South Bank for lunch. The food stalls behind the Royal Festival hall are a riot of colour and assaulting aromas. After a couple of circuits we decided to try the Malaysian food stall – a hot vegetable curry with rice for under a fiver. Result!
We wanted to go to David Shrigley’s ‘Brain Activity’ exhibition in the Hayward Gallery next door but even if we wanted to pay a tenner to get in, we still had to wait over an hour before we’d be admitted because the queues were so long! So we walked to the Tate Modern instead and wish we hadn’t bothered. The Yayoi Kusama exhibition didn’t really appeal (and was not free!) and the only exhibition we did see of Surrealist Art was very disappointing, and I’m a big fan of Surrealism. By this time Anita could barely talk because her feet were hurting so bad so we abandoned culture in favour of shopping and headed for the nearest place (Barbican Shopping Centre) to buy Anita some pumps. Shoe crisis over, we hopped on the tube, hopped off at Oxford Circus and window-shopped and people-watched our way to Covent Garden. It was Saturday late afternoon on a sunny day in London and there was a big 6 Nations Rugby match on too, so everywhere was packed. Nonetheless we found a decent pub (one of the cheapest in London as it turns out – my frugal radar is so finely tuned these days!!!) where we flopped in a comfy leather armchair amongst the throng of theatre-goers et al and enjoyed our cold draught half pints whilst we waited for Reuben to contact us about meeting up for a meal.
As luck would have it Reuben works just round the corner from the best Indonesian restauarant in London, so that’s where we met up. It is the most inauspicious-looking joint, not grubby exactly but slightly soiled round the edges and looks very much like a canteen. Still, the queue out the door was a good sign. We managed to get a table quite quickly since there was only 3 of us and quickly settled for a variety of dishes to share: a fried mackerel dish with wasabi soy sauce dip; a spicy pork dish and a slightly less spicy beef dish; noodles and rice. The food came quickly, was freshly cooked, piping hot, big portions and all totally delicious for just over £11 per head, in the heart of London’s West End! Thank you Reuben!
Despite being stuffed to our gills, we managed to squeeze another drink in with Reuben at a favourite cocktail bar of his round the corner, before heading back to Marylebone to catch the train home. It was a fabulous, fabulous day.
This month I’ve seen a male Black Redstart and a Song Thrush. And when Steve & I were walking Daisy along the beach, we spotted a Black Kingfisher.
On my dog walks, I’ve been enjoying watching Spring take hold – the wild narcissi are nearly over and the violets are out now, with their perfectly purply petals and delicate but intoxicating scent.
The mountains behind us have been white with snow for weeks now, even as we are bathed in sun. But this dramatic backdrop is changing now as the snow is all but melted and the days and nights have started to really warm up. Thankfully this month has been soggy at times so the ground got a good soaking too.