Tag: winter


2016-02-07 14.47.59
Alder thicket

This afternoon I went for a wet, wet winter walk in the fields and woods around Osmaston village.  The ground was sodden, the rivers and streams swirling with brown water and every so often, more rain poured from the steel-grey sky.


However, I was there by choice, in the company of good friends and a dog, and in spite of the squelching mud underfoot, we had a very enjoyable time.  The first snowdrops were spotted in the hedgerow.

Once we got home, it was good to warm up again with a bowl of soup.  I’d made it earlier in the day and was rather pleased with how it turned out.  I’ve called it Cheat’s Tomato Soup because it has the satisfying gunky taste of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup, but it is secretly healthy and dead easy to make.  So without further ado, here is the recipe.


  • Onion, 1
  • Garlic, 1 clove
  • Oil for frying, 1 TB
  • Large tin of reduced sugar baked beans (400g*), 1
  • Large tin of tomatoes (400g*), 1
  • Marigold stock powder, 1 tsp
  • Fresh red chilli, 1, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • To serve:  creme fraiche* (half fat) and one spring onion chopped finely, or chives

To make

  1. Chop the onion coarsely. Mince the garlic.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion for a few minutes to soften.  Add the garlic and stir.
  3. Add the beans and the tomatoes plus one tin full of water.  Bring to the boil.
  4. Stir in the stock powder and the chilli. Turn the heat right down, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and liquidise.  If it’s too thick, you can let it down with stock.
  6. Serve with a spoonful of creme fraiche and scatter the spring onion in an artistically japanese sort of way over the surface.



*If you live in America, the imperial equivalent is 14.1 oz, and I think creme fraiche would be sour cream 








Casting around for a some different way to use my Crown Princes (see ‘Z is for Zucca Ivernale’), I found this risotto recipe from north Italy.  You can use any kind of pumpkin, or butternut squash (which is more readily available in UK supermarkets).  It will make you a dish to sustain body and soul.

Some say that Antonio Vivaldi was fond of this dish, so it would only be fair prepare it to the accompaniment of his Four Seasons: Winter.

Antonio Vivaldi, composer of The Four Seasons, and greatest baroque musician of all time, enjoyed a spot of pumpkin risotto when his muse sulked

Serves 4


  • Pumpkin, or butternut squash 600g (or a bit more if you like)
  • Onion, 1 medium
  • Garlic, 1 large clove
  • Oil (not olive), 1TB
  • Butter, 1 thickish slice
  • Risotto rice (sold as arborio or canarole rice in the UK), 200g
  • Dried sage*,  2 generous pinches
  • Marigold stock, 500ml
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • Grated parmesan to serve

* I like sage, but if you don’t, use rosemary or thyme instead

To make

  1. Prepare the pumpkin, or butternut squash.  Remove the seeds, peel and chop into small chunks, a bit larger than poker dice.  Steam until just tender – about 10 minutes.  Drain.
  2. While this is happening, peel and chop the onion, and crush the garlic.
  3. Heat the oil and butter together in a saute pan. (The butter gives flavour, the oil stops the butter from burning – neat, eh?)**
  4. Gently fry the onion till soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes.
  5. Then add the rice and stir till the grains are shiny.
  6. Add 1 ladle full of stock and stir well to ensure that nothing is sticking on the bottom of the pan.  Turn the heat down, and continue to cook gently with the lid off, stirring from time to time.
  7. After about 3 minutes, most of the stock will have been absorbed.  Add another ladle full of stock, as well as the steamed pumpkin and the sage.  Continue to simmer and stir as before.
  8. Carry on adding the stock and cooking.  You may not need all the stock, or you may possibly need more.  Taste for doneness: you are aiming at a soupy consistency, but the individual grains of rice should have a bit of bite – al dente.  
  9. You will notice that the pumpkin sort of disintegrates, giving the risotto a beautiful overall golden colour.
  10. Season to taste and serve in bowls with grated parmesan.
  11. Buon appetito!


**Thank you Mum for this excellent tip!




2016-01-17 11.33.37
Snowy fields near Kedleston Hall, Derby

Winter has at last arrived – and it is mid January!  We had a night of hard frost followed by a flurry of snow on the weekend.  There has lately been an uncoupling of time and temperature, and things have gone askew.  Warm winters can be more disturbing than cold summers.  A bit like when Tiffany Aching dances with the Wintersmith and, mistaking her for the Summer Lady, he falls in love with her.

Haven’t read ‘Wintersmith’ by Terry Pratchett yet?  You have a treat in store.

This is the time of year to keep body and soul together.


One way to do this is to put a pinch of ground ginger in your tea.  It doesn’t matter what kind of tea you drink, or whether you have milk or not.  Just take a little pinch and stir it in.  You will barely taste it, but it has a magic effect.  If you have a cold, it will make it better.  If you don’t have a cold, it will prevent you getting one.  This clever tip came from the Indian check-out lady at my local Sainsburys, and I can vouch that it works.  Do try it.

Three wise colleagues recommend ginger ale if you are suffering from morning sickness.  And the next time you are on an ocean cruise, they swear there is nothing more effective than ginger ale to quell the nausea of sea-sickness when the going gets a tad squiffy in the Azores.



Today is the fourth day of Christmas, and although I don’t have Four Calling Birds to share with you, I do have my friend Barbara’s recipe for  Cranberry Brownies.  As long as you can lay your hands on fresh cranberries, you can enjoy these most delicious seasonal Brownies, which by the way, are not brown!



  • Sugar 75g
  • Butter 175g
  • Eggs 4
  • Plain flour 150g
  • Baking powder 1 tsp
  • Ground almonds 100g
  • Mincemeat 400g, or one jar
  • Fresh cranberries 150g
  • Glace cherries 75g
  • Flaked almonds 50g

To make

  1. Heat the oven to 180 C, 350 F Gas Mark 4.
  2. Butter and line a large rectangular cake tin 20 cm x 30 cm.
  3. Cream the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one by one, beating well in between.
  5. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold in.
  6. Add the mincemeat, the ground almonds, the cranberries, the cherries and the flaked almonds and fold them all in carefully but thoroughly.
  7. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  If you think it is getting too dark on top, cover it with a piece of tinfoil and continue cooking.
  8. When done, take it out of the oven and let it cool.  Then cut into squares.

Barbara is an inspirational cook.  If you want to find out more about what she does, you can see for yourself.   http://www.timeout-for-you.co.uk/



2015-11-01 08.43.03
Harvest of Borlotti Beans Lengua di Fuocco

Egregious: now there’s a word I don’t get to use very often.

I finally harvested my Borlottis a few weeks ago, after stormy winds blew all the leaves off the bean stalks.    I’ve podded them and dried them now, and I’m keeping them to eat when the weather turns colder and darker.

Some might say it would be much easier just to open a tin of borlotti beans and some would probably be right.  But growing them has made me realise their value: the time, the rain, the soil, the sun, the plant itself, and my work have all conspired to make this harvest of beans.

I realise more clearly, that borlotti beans, so readily available in the supermarket, take much time and effort to grow.

We come by our food so easily,  yet  waste it so egregiously.