New Year Greetings!

Not a particularly happy New Year in the Matron household. Poor Buddy had a small stroke yesterday. He will be 14yrs old on Sunday. The vet said there is really no treatment for strokes in dogs, and he may make a full recovery. Have a look at my new linked blog Matron's Dogblog for a fuller explanation of stroke. He just looks very dizzy at the moment and can't stand up for long. Lots of bed rest and TLC. I'm not looking forward to protecting him from the fireworks tonight! I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work I go!Wishing everyone out there in blogland a Happy Christmas! from Matron and Buddy!

Christmas Dinner Part 2

So I've collected the goose, now I have two sticks of sprouts!I love sprouts!
I might have a bit of a job digging up my leeks, but as I'm working on Christmas Day and we appear to be thawing out a bit in London, I might be able to get a fork in the ground on the 26th!


Do you remember 'B' from Matron's Dogblog?Our blogging friend Gintoino has just lost his best friend. Please pop over to Jardim com Gatos to send him your best wishes.

Christmas Dinner!

Do you know where all the ingredients of your Christmas Dinner are coming from? One of these lucky birds will be taking pride of place on our dining room table on Christmas Day! Iam indeed fortunate to have found a friend with a smallholding, and I went to pick up my goose yesterday! This has to knock spots off the plastic wrapped pale, frozen offerings in most supermarkets?

What do I blog about in Winter?

It's not hard in the Summer to find things to blog about.But what to blog about in Winter when nothing is happening. My favourite trug? One hundred and one things to do with a wheelbarrow? a watering can? Does anyone have any ideas?

White Christmas?

The South of England has been covered in a heavy snowfall overnight.
I am pleased with the way these hardy Winter lettuce appear to have stood up to the extreme cold.
These garlic chive flower heads look lovely with their snow hats on!
Buddy enjoyed himself too! We had a few hours of bright sunshine this afternoon so decided to go for a walk on the common!

What are your Garden Plans for Next Year?

Next year I intend to grow an F1 variety of Brussels Sprout for the first time on my allotment. I look forward to swapping seeds with fellow enthusiasts. I intend to tidy up my chaotic collection of seed packets in scruffy biscuit tins. What are your garden plans for next year?

More from Paradise!

The most vibrant place in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is the local market.
I was interested to see these trombone squash tromba d'albegna as it is a variety that I look forward to growing next season.
I also bought some strings of paprika peppers which I will dry in my dehydrator and make paprika powder. I suppose I will also be looking for a good goulash recipe too!
These monsters are an unusual eel like fish which is caught in the sea off the coast. They are known as Espada fish.
Here are another couple of stray dogs chilling out in the sunshine.

A Tropical Paradise!

I've just returned from a glorious short break on the island of Madiera.
The weather was wonderful, mostly 70degrees and bright sunshine.
My favourite place on the island is the colourful and vibrant fruit and veg market.
When fruit is properly ripened where it was grown it has a heavenly scent.
Guavas, pineapples, passionfruit and custard apples are fantastic here.
I also took time to visit a friend who runs a small charity feeding and neutering stray dogs on the island.
Here are some of my old friends! More pics to follow, when I have unpacked!

Matron is off to Madeira

Matron is off to Madeira again! Just for a couple of days to enjoy the warmth of the sun. It's 70degrees and sunny right now. Baxoon!

Jerusalem Artichokes

My heavy London clay soil seems to be ideal for these Jerusalem artichokes. It's extremely muddy down on the allotment at the moment so they took quite a bit of scrubbing with the garden hose and a brush to get them clean.

They always seem to be a bit of a fiddle to prepare and cook. Today I roasted some in the oven but the skins were still thick and leathery. Steaming seems to be a better option but still a bit fiddly. Does anyone have any handy hints for preparing artichokes? Whatever it takes, I am a big fan and I adore them!

Crown Prince Pumpkin

Here's one of my lovely Crown Prince pumpkins. What an amazing colour!

I always roast them in the oven, it tends to evaporate some of the water.

Blog readers will know that once every 5 weeks I get a half day off work, and I like to play 'tourist in my own town'. Today I took the train to the East side of London to have a look at the building works for the London 2012 Olympics site.

The roof of this stunning London Aquatics Centre is up already. This wonderful design by a female architect Zaha Hadid is supposed to be a 'wave shaped' roof. Am I alone in thinking that it looks like a Pringles potato crisp?

The main Olympic stadium is largely built now. I took the tube down to Stratford today, the main building site is in a triangle between Stratford, Hackney Wick and Pudding Mill Lane stations.

I am dreading the extra traffic in London during the Olympics. It is bad enough every day getting to work without an extra few million people! hmmm

Home Grown Mushrooms

Look what I grew in my airing cupboard!

It's just a shop bought kit, you just spread the bag of casing compost over the spawn impregnated straw

And keep moist in a warmish place - mine took just 18 days!

Like everything that you grow for yourself it tasted fantastic!

Rainbow Lights!

No, Matron hasn't been hit on the head or had a 60s trip... I'm referring to the wonderful psychadelic 'Rainbow Lights' Swiss chard which are the stars of the show at the moment. This poor specimen is another of Matron's sorry carrots! One at a time dear reader.. it might be too much of a shame to bear! I love growing Rainbow Lights Swiss Chard, it is such a good do-er right the way through Winter. I will have such a stunning show of colours like this!

Meanwhile elsewhere on the plot I have a fabulous patch of fresh Parsley. I've been thinking of meals to cook whereby parsley is the main ingredient. Cod fillet with parsely sauce and mashed potato (and wonky carrots!). Gammon with parsley sauce and pease pudding. I think I am going to make a makeshift cloche to put over this patch over Winter. I know it is fairly hardy but I would love to keep using it right the way through Winter - I love it!
Almost every day I am down on the patch having a look to see if I can see any purple sprouts in the middle of my broccoli plant! This variety Rudolph is one of the extra early varieties and should be starting to crop in December or January. I can't wait!
My Isle of Wight garlic is getting away nicely. This is the Early Purple variety.
Someone told me that you can put small plastic drinks bottles over garlic at this time of year to help them through the Winter. I thought I might use some sticks and fleece protection. Does anyone have any tips? Anything welcome because my garlic usually ends up the size of conkers!

Matron's Spiced Christmas Chutney

Here's another idea to use up your apples and pumpkins. I've re-used a picture from last year, this was the most amazing sweet chutney to eat with cold meat or salad. You have to prepare the spiced vinegar in advance. 3/4 pint of malt vinegar boiled up with some of your favourite Christmas spices. I use star anise, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Bring to the boil then leave to infuse for 24hours.

4lbs cooking apples
1lb pumpkin cut into half inch cubes
1lb red onion
3oz grated ginger
10oz brown sugar
rind and juice of an orange
4oz dried cranberries
4oz dried mixed fruit
1/2 pint gluhwein (mulled wine)
3/4 pint spiced vinegar

Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan except the sugar. Simmer the chutney for at least 30 minutes or until reduced. There is enough pectin in the apples and pumpkins for a good set. I found that the pumpkin does not disolve but stays in chunks so you can cut bigger chunks if you like them in your chutney! You can add more of your favourite Christmas spices to the mixture. Add the sugar and simmer until reduced further. Bottle in sterilized jars and store till needed.

Ruth's Pumpkin Soup

I have been overwhelmed with the urge to make home-made soups recently. So many wonderful veggies to chose from, it is so easy to make and healthy and tasty to boot. One soup recipe not to miss is this wonderful Caribbean pumpkin soup! courtesy of my good friend Ruth (pictured with Buddy!) This will certainly warm you up! 2lbs pumpkin diced into squares
1 scotch bonnet pepper
3 spring onions chopped
2 cloves garlic
dried thyme
1tsp salt & black pepper
chicken or vegetable stock
2 chopped carrots
3 chopped sweet potatoes
1 plantain, chopped (banana will do)

You can make this soup with chopped pieces of the vegetables, but I prefer to blend it to a smooth soup. Remember to put the scotch bonnet chilli into the soup whole when you cook it, but take it out before you put it through the blender - unless you can take it really hot!

Food Security

I read an interesting article in the RHS magazine recently about food security (or lack of it) in the UK. By this, I mean the ability of the United Kingdom to grow and provide all the food it needs to sustain the population. It won't be long before we cannot rely on a plentiful food supply coming in from other countries. Only one tenth of the fruit that we eat in the UK is grown here, and just under a half of all the vegetables. There will come a time in the not too distant future when supplies of water and fuel become scarce that we will all need to grow our own food. Most people in the UK have no idea how to do that, and therefore it will be up to you and I - the food growing bloggers - to show them how, before they all starve to death!

Growing food locally using sustainable methods has been placed at the top of the Government's food security agenda following its first ever assessment on the safetly of the country's food supply. So all of us out here, the beekeepers, poultry keepers farmers and allotmenteers will be in great demand. I know I won't go hungry! will you?

Size Isn't Everything!

I dug up another two magnificent specimens of my Bulgarian Giant Leeks for Sunday lunch yesterday. Although spectacular to look at, and seemed to resist an attack of leek moth, I have to report, dear readers, that in my humble opinion the taste isn't up to much I'm afraid. I think that many giant-type vegetables - elephant garlic, giant pumpkins for instance, don't tend to compete on the taste front. The fresh Brussels Sprouts from Lincolnshire, however, were spectacular! Has anyone noticed a plague of little grey plastic items on their soil recently? It really annoys me that for months, even years after bonfire night I am picking these up out of my soil. I presume they are an integral part of a rocket, perhaps holding different colours, propellant chemicals etc. They fall to earth when a firework explodes and I suppose the manufacturers don't give a thought to the environment.
A very small plus point however... I collect up all these nice strong wooden sticks and use them as plant supports next Spring! - re-use re-cycle!