Sunday, December 16, 2012

Des Res - Cluckingham Palace

Some chooks have all the luck. Some are born into royalty or at least aspire to it. These lucky escapees from a battery farm must have been born with a silver leg tag at the least.

This is their home. Cluckingham Palace complete with blue painted shutters and blue and white polka dot curtains. All the better for spying Mr Fox if he comes calling. He won't be huffing and puffing down this chimney though.

Ms Tagalong was very impressed with the set up. The Dorothys, as all the 10 chickens are called, have the run of a large field occasionally shared with a few horses. The slope of the field means that as you come through the bottom gate into the farm they spy you and race down in that inimitable chicken way, wings outstretched, legs akimbo, falling over themselves in anticipation of a delectable snack.

Ms Tagalong did not disappoint, she took the remains of frozen hot cross buns , soft and pappy from a too long stay in the freezer, perfect chook fodder!

Darling Loggins (she again of The World from my Window fame) bakes their egg shells and crushes them into small pieces with a large white pestle to supplycalcium into the diet, so Tighes Hill garden friends remember to bake them hard before you toss those shells over the fence.

And the chickens? Well, their battery days are just a faded memory...

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Friday, December 7, 2012

A community paella

Now that's a big one
Ms Tagalong and Mr Ideasman were in Barcelona recently. They loved the bikeways everywhere and rejoiced in the citywide Bicing for residents. Way to go!  Wandering down through the back of the Born district on Sunday in search of a sunny spot for lunch they spied a square at the end of a narrow road which seemed to be full of coloured chairs and people.

'Let's look here first,' said Mr Ideasman and off they went.

Healthy growth
A sight for sore eyes indeed, or sore feet as they had been tramping all over town that day. A community garden with notices exhorting them to boycot the multinationals and agri-business and return food to locally grown caught their eye. 

As if this was not enough, two giant paellas were being cooked at the bottom of the garden for community lunch!

'How long has this garden been going for?' Ms Tagalong asked in her best Spanish. The lady in the grey hat said,

Alex and crew hoisting the paella
'I'm not sure as I come from another community garden the other side of the city. You should ask her,' and she pointed to a heavily cardiganed figure gesticulating wildly with a large wooden spoon whilst talking to a couple over the fence. 

And the conversation continued and continued and not liking to interrupt Ms Tagalong resigned herself to not knowing the answer. But it certainly looked healthy, even though it was winter and all around were cold.

Enjoying the big lunch
Now this was definitely the place to be! Tables laid into two long rows (the big lunch) and the community out in force.

Alex from Uruguay was not an interloper, he lived there with his Argentinian wife and loved the community spirit.

Feeling very much in their place Mr Ideasman and Ms Tagalong enjoyed a fabulous lunch and added support to the project management community neighborhood centers. Neighborhood organizations together to propose a management of the nearest house, transparent and participatory fun come to know her well that's what the google translation of the Catalan said!

The second one is nearly ready
Ms Tagalong reckoned they had had their little community injection of participatory fun and they slipped off to marvel at the Picasso Museum.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Foodie Penpals - black is the new black!

'Any things you really dislike? Like liquorice, who can like liquorice!' said Gareth. So it didn't start well.  Ms Tagalong's foodie penpal turned out to be her arch nemesis in foodie tastes but came up with the goods anyway! ( Sorry folks the formatting on this post has all gone haywire! Don't seem to be able to correct it.)
A black cube emblazoned with the logo Black was   the first thing Ms Tagalong zoned in on. Dark          chocolate coated chili liquorice –a combination       made in Danish heaven! She counted out the            lozenges dusted with salmiak and chili powder,         fifteen days supply if she rationed them out carefully and probably hid them from Mr Ideasman. 
An exquisite wooden butter knife was next to be     examined. Something which will find its way back to Australia, for sure. 
Swedish Pepparkakor biscuits are still sitting in their bright red box waiting for a happy occasion, maybe  Christmas? Lovely to have with cheese maybe.   MsTagalong did her best trying to decipher the writing  on  the box but had to resort to looking at the          pictures!  Looks like they are spiced with ginger,     cinammon, clovesand fenugreek. Yum. 
A little pot of home-made traffic-light chutney, so    named from the different pepper colours and a little bottle of bourbon flavoured gourmet sauce were      also in this wonderful box. Thank you Gareth, says Ms Tagalong. 

Pia Schmedt who was so lucky to have Ms Tagalong as a foodie penpal has sent in a little post about her parcel as she saw it! 
This month I was lucky enough to receive my foodie penpal parcel from Meryl, who lives in Dorset.
I always love to open the foodie penpals packages and this time it was real fun:
She sent me different kind of products, some I know and some I don't know and had to look up on the internet.
It was the nuts &breadsticks for the Romesco sauce, which I didn't know,   but found out that it is a nut and red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.
You can serve it with seafoods, which is perfect, because guess what, I live at the North Sea just 1km from  the ocean and we eat a lot of fish in our family.
The other thing I had to look up is the tagine spice from Morocco, it is used for the slow cooked meals in a traditional Moroccan tagine pot.
One of the best items was the Paella seasoning, because my family loves Paella and I will use this seasoning  the next time I cook this dish.
Then there were the oatmeal & honey cookies from a local company, which were delicious and disappeared quickly together with the yummy lemon & ginger tea.
But the BEST the absolutely BEST were the real ale chutney together with the cheese bites and the rosquellitas (savoury biscuits, which are so delicious that I have to find a store, where I can buy them or a recipe to make some myself).
I had some tomato chutney left and my husband and I had the perfect evening snack!!!
Meryl sent me a lovely card from the Biddulph Grange Garden in Staffordshire.  
Thank you Meryl for the wonderful parcel, I loved everything :)
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grow some, take some - Todmorden Incredible Edibles

Ms Tagalong, her friend Darling Loggins (from The World from my Window fame) and her Yorkshire resident daughter Ms Would You Rather, threaded their way up the long narrow valleys into Todmorden.

Ms Tagalong could hardly contain herself. After having seen this TED inspirationalvideo via a newsletter from Changing Habits, Changing Lives recently, the chance to see Todmorden and its incredible edibles in all its verdant glory was opportune.

Outside the police station! 
' I thought this was a village,' Ms Tagalong commented as they drove down the grey, rain-slicked road into the town of 14,941 inhabitants. She looked around craning her neck to spot some incredible edibles in the winter weather.

'Better park here,' she said as they pulled up outside the police station, 'ooh, look, beds and veg – it's a fair cob, I mean cop, says this sign!'

So she sprang out of the car, camera at the ready. Ms Would You Rather loaded up the green route on her mobile and off they went.

La Neige Blanche in the window
Admittedly there was a detour. La Neige Blanche, garishly painted, sitting in pride of place in a window display of every possible piece of themed china produced, pulled the trio into the shop where they met Margaret of the chinashop's husband.

'This is a true story,' he kept saying as he regaled them with tales of royalty and near royalty purchasing his wares and of his wife (Margaret) lurking behind a a bin on the offchance that Prince Charles, who he said had visited the Incredible Edible town three weeks earlier, might wander on down from the market to say hello.

Herb picking at the station
'It's a true story,' he repeated taking off his glasses so he couldn't look them in the eye!

Back on track the trio spotted vegetables, vegetables everywhere, to pick and to share. Onions outside the adult education college, herbs outside the train station, beans in the churchyard and an apothecary's garden by the canal.

Grow it, map it and share it!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Onion knowledge!

Ms Tagalong has been looking through some of the photos she has taken of various great gardens this past year.

One garden in particular stands out. Another National Trust property, chanced upon as a detour off the great M5 motorway was a wonderful break.

Hanbury Hall and gardens , a William and Mary style house built in 1701, has its share of history with a family including ne'er-do-wells and squandered fortunes.

The stunningly restored parterre garden is a highlight,
'My sister would love that! All that perfection and order,' said Ms Tagalong.

The walled garden is once again a working, producing, viable veggie garden supplying the cafe with its greens, fruit and of course eggs from the happy chickens!

Ms Tagalong has probably mentioned before how excited she is about the course the National Trust is taking with all this sustainability and local produce. Fantastic!

Wandering into the greenhouse Mr Ideasman spied onions drying on a table. He cupped one in his hand impressed by its size, 'I certainly know my onions!' he quipped.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Autumn Feast at River Cottage Canteen

Autumn in the canteen

Ms Tagalong works hard at getting what she wants and so it came to pass that she, Mr Ideasman,
Ms Pintsize and Mr Gentlegiant arrived at the door of the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster in time for lunch recently.

It was busy, still busy, even though the holidays were over, all the children should have been back at school but then Ms Tagalong remembered that half term holidays were in fact a week early in some counties and hence that explained the little rugrats running around harassed parents.

Actually that last bit is just not true. Two darling little girls at the next table sat quietly and patiently crayoning and drawing waiting for their food.

The menu was full of seasonal specialities but Ms Tagalong was keen to try the kale speltotto with goat's cheese, this cheese being her new best- loved food...after rhubarb,admittedly, and perhaps ginger, and maybe even aubergine (eggplant).

Kale speltotto with goat's cheese
'Speltotto?' questioned Ms Pintsize, 'What on earth is that? Sounds like it could be Italian...'

So Ms Tagalong hauled the River Cottage Veg Every Day book off the shelf behind the bench seat and looked it up.

'This is very similar to a risotto but based on nutty grains of pearled spelt,' she read out.

'Spelt?' Ms Pintsize asked, 'isn't that the past tense of spell?'

Mr Gentlegiant smiled fondly at his wife and Ms Tagalong vowed to find out more about this ancient grain not the ancient verb!

Will someone please buy me the veg book?
But first she was going to have to eat it.

And it was creamy and perfect for a cool Autumn Day.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Eden Project - a bite of the apple

Have you ever been to Eden? Adam and Eve of course think of it differently but Ms Tagalong and Mr Ideasman thought of it as a haven for all things botanical but still thought it wise on a visit not to bite into any proffered fruit.

This morning, snow fell, so to keep warm  Ms Tagalong recalled the heat in the Eden Project and smiled.

Tim Smit's dream to convert an eyesore of a clay pit into the eighth wonder of the world ten years ago came to fruition and Ms Tagalong's remembrance of the plastic flowers (recycled drink cups and washing machine hose, of course) were no longer in sight.

The gardens have grown since her last visit beyond all measure and the towering palms threaten to pierce the plastic pillows hexagonally placed to make the impressive domes.

Mr Ideasman hotfooted it to the rainforest biome, the world's largest rainforest in captivity with steamy jungles and waterfalls says the website. Mr Ideasman was at this time feeling the need for some Australian heat and stickiness as Cornwall had not been providing this for him up to now.

He sweated and stripped as he looked at all the familiar plants in the Australasian section. How exciting to see a Wollombi pine! How disappointing not to be able to ascend the lookout as the possibility of fainting right away had closed it for the day!

Ms Tagalong loved the vegetables planted in the beds outside the cafes, edible and decorative. That’s the way! Fresh rocket and salad from bed to plate.

Big Brunch here has become the Big Lunch. Feeling sad about missing the Big Brunch this year Ms Tagalong and Mr Ideasman realised that they had also missed the Big Lunch. Heigh, ho. There will be another year.

Instruction boards remind all of the educational purpose of the project. The workshops available; the instructional messages on the production of tea, cocoa and coffee; environmental and ethical purchases in the shop; all add up to the Eden experience.

Ms Ideasman is still enjoying his wonderful Guatamalan coffee and hoping to go back for some more humidity as it gets colder and colder...

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Mancunian take on Foodie Penpals

Ms Tagalong tried not to get her hopes up too high this month. The non-arrival of August's Foodie Penpals parcel made her so sad!

But with impeccable timing for Halloween the parcel from the lovely Kim in Manchester arrived bursting with sweeties!

Sweeties? 'Mmm, not food but just as good,' said Mr Ideasman as he watched Ms Tagalong decant the Halloween jelly beans into a bowl.

Kim said they are very good beans, no artificial flavourings, no additives and Ms T is determined to eat them before any little ghoulies or witches turn up on the doorstep demanding treats.

Kim also sent some of her favourite large smartie type sweeties called vice versas. No colours here just chocolate and more chocolate! The package included some black pepper ramen crackers and a pack of herby snack biscuits of Mediterranean origin. Variety being the theme of her pack she also sent a tin of Polish chicken pate!

A pack of On the go trail mix will pop into Ms Tagalong's pocket the next time she goes off investigating some garden or the other!

As Ms Tagalong's Foodie Penpals recipient is not a blogger this is a photo of what was sent her, herbs and spices from the Mediterranean plus ingredients for a Catalan Romesco sauce.

Ms Tagalong just loved tasting this Romesco sauce on her travels and so ths is a link to a recipe for it. 

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Mersley Farm - Garlic Farm 

All good gardens should have an ample supply of garlic growing, but which variety is best? Ms Tagalong set off to find out by visiting the world famous Garlic Farm in the Isle of Wight. Tucked into the lee of surrounding hills, protected from prevailing winds and with abundant spring water the farm buildings come into view as you drive up Mersley Lane.

Man has lived on this site for at least 6,000 years but there seems no proof that garlic has been grown here for that long!

In fact garlic was brought to the island for homesick French soldiers during the last war and as garlic is now a staple for most kitchens its popularity is timely.

For thirty years the Boswell family has scoured the world for the best varieties and strains to grow here. They supply over 15 types brought from as far as Kazakhstan and Central Asia. 

You probably don't need so many in your community garden! Ms Tagalong and friends walked around the farm with nary a field of garlic in sight. Apparently their rotation requirements need the farm to use other farmer's land for their crops.

Moldovian garlic is great for bread, elephant garlic great for baking and Chesnok Wight a very fiery one to be used with care. 

Trying the different garlic products in the education centre was a highlight which Mr Ideasman deemed necessary to repeat after the walk! Vampire pickles, mayonnaises, mustards and relishes were all on sale in the well-stocked shop where Flavia was serving for her fourth year. Not a local, she comes from Shropshire every year with her parents for her summer holiday and spends it working in the cafe. A secret teenage garlic lover who has read too much Twilight?

Ms Tagalong bought a few varieties to sample but sadly can't bring them back to Australia. That might be good for the alliophobics amongst you! (people with an irrational fear of garlic)

Garlic facts you might not know, (courtesy of Mersley Farm)

  1. Gardeners can use a spray of crushed garlic in water to combat aphids, whitefly, spiders and other pests.
  2. Folklore has it that carrying a garlic clove with you when travelling over water will prevent you from drowning. (Ms Tagalong wished she knew that before she got on the Isle of Wight ferry!)
  3. Fifteen pounds (about 7kg) of garlic would buy a healthy male slave. Now that's interesting! Oh, this was in the reign of King Tutankhamun of Egypt, all those years ago.
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

What to do with 1,221 random wooden objects!

No gardens in this one but a lot of recycled wood! Mr Ideasman, as you may know, is happy to be working with, viewing, touching, planing, varnishing or even just sanding wood, so the boat sat on the dock in Weymouth drew him like a magnet to its shiny surface. Forget Olympic sailing for a moment or two, let him find out about this boat.

He spoke to Don Manson, one of the builders of the boat. He, like Mr Ideasman, was running his hands over the bow, touching the outlines of numerous objects used for their wood.

‘They’re not just random pieces,’ he said, ‘ for instance this hairbrush here was donated by someone who used it to brush the hair of stars at Elstree Studios.’

Every piece has a story. Don showed Ms Tagalong his donation, a clothes peg, its outline clear amongst the hockey sticks and tennis rackets. Even the sawdust was saved and made into bookmarks. Ms Tagalong’s bookmark states that it is made of the Victory, a shelfing unit from Ikea, boxwood planted in 1166, the floor of a Royal palace amongst a wonderful collection of 1,221 pieces indeed.

This unique idea dreamt up by two artists over ten years ago received Arts Council funding and it was even part of the UK’s bid for the Olympics, so where better for it to be displayed than at the Olympic sailing venue.

The boat which took over 18 months to be built by four professional boat builders and teams of volunteers actually sails, although Don hastened to add that it was not a racer!

So with that Mr Ideasman pushed Ms Tagalong along the quay to see some real racing!

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Chocolate and beetroot?

Never one to miss an opportunity Ms Tagalong visited a vegetable garden high on the White Cliffs of Dover.   She and Mr Ideasman were whiling away a few hours before their ferry to foreign climes, spending time in the National Trust cafe at the cliff viewpoint and walks located directly above the port.

Queuing up, a notice proclaimed that the chocolate and beetroot cake used beetroot from the garden and garlic also for the garlic mushrooms on toast, both specialities of theirs.

Vegetable slice with salad and chicken and bacon salad though were the order of the day for these two garden adventurers.

Lorna, behind the counter, gave directions and Mr Ideasman trotted dutifully behind Ms T up the hill towards the National Trust offices. If truth be known, Mr Ideasman helped pull Ms T up the steep path! Two men on ladders painting looked confused as the intrepid duo poked their heads over the top of the fence searching out the luscious beetroot.

Once spied and duly photographed, Ms T hotfooted it back (easier down than up!) to acquire the recipe for that fantastic cake.

'Oh, the chef has gone home', said Lorna.

'Yes he has but it's all online now,' said a young kitchenhand.

So if you are wondering how to make this with those lovely beets from the garden, here is the link:
Montacute House Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Ms Tagalong wanted an excuse to visit Montacute House!

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rainy day River Cottage Canteen and Deli

The bright green paint job stood out off the square in Axminster, Ms Tagalong could spot it even in the pouring rain. 

Mr Ideasman had wanted coffee and cake but being later than eleven they had timed their arrival to pour through the doorway with the grockles queuing for something to do in the incessant rain of the Jurassic coast.

As the doors to the canteen opened dead on midday the wet jackets shunted forward past the table with a wailing baby.

George the pastry chef had concocted some interesting cakes. Millionaire’s shortbread, parsnip, apricot and walnut cake, Eccles cakes and chocolate mousse cake. Mr Ideasman plumped for an Eccles cake and Ms Tagalong the parsnip cake.

The Eccles cake was the hit of the day; the best Ms Tagalong had ever tasted, plump currants and caramelised brown sugar. So good that two more had to be purchased for a later picnic.

So where were the illustrious duo? Hands up those who have heard of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall! Thought so. This is the lower cost option for River Cottage dinners. Set choices of menu served in the canteen with verve and vigour from locally sourced produce. The equally famous River Cottage Canteen and Deli.

An old fashioned deli case packed with all varieties of pies greets you as you enter, with shelves behind bursting with local beverages, ciders, teas, elderflower, dressings and oils.

Chris the maître d’hote was bustling, hurrying, scurrying, putting tables together in the café part to provide extra canteen seating for the salivating families.

‘Absolutely full, I’m sorry, there’ll be a half hour to forty-five minute wait.’ Disappointed faces and dripping people were turfed out into the rain. Mr Ideasman reckoned they should really have a sign outside saying, ‘Full, come back in ½ hour!’

Ms Tagalong would really like to return for some of that ‘freshly cooked, fabulous food in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.’ She is checking her diary now to lock in a date.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

At snail's pace

Foodie Penpals month 3!

Ooh, Ms Tagalong was so excited to find that this month she was paired with a Malyasian foodie living and working in Ukraine.

The mind boggled. What would she be sent? Nasi goreng with cherry compote? Goulash spice for noodles?

The lovely Shaila Ja who has been living in Ukraine for a while said she would do her best to send spicy things.

Ms Tagalong, as is her wont, waited for the postman right up until the day she left for the Lake District. Ukraine post must be slow as sadly no parcel arrived.

So here she is late with her post, unable to meet reveal day deadline and still imagining what is in her parcel.

Snails have been a problem this year, along with huge black slugs, and it is they who must be bringing the parcel from Ukraine as it has still not arrived.

Ms Tagalong will just have to wait… something she does so well!

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ynyslas or vegetable colourscapes

Rosie and Olivier's dedication!
So impressed was Ms Tagalong with CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology)  that she took their recommendation to visit Ynyslas, a community garden project a few miles away near Borth on the mid-Wales coast.

Mr Ideasman drove the Bongo into the walled garden. No-one in sight. But before they could go off nosing around, Peter, 'the owner' of the land appeared from the blackcurrant bushes.

His initial reticence receded as Ms Tagalong mumbled and bumbled her explanation of why she was there and summoning his partner, Lynne, they explained more about the garden.

Healthy crops in one of those greenhouses
You have to go back to the industrial revolution really, the start of railway lines coming down from the Midlands. Borth became a holiday destination with no food! Ever entrepeneurial, the railways built this large walled garden with lean-to greenhouses on all sides and many very large ones in the middle. Several still stand today, some repaired, some in disrepair. Not surprising as there are over 600 panes of glass in each one!

Mr Ideasman was jumping up and down with excitement,
'This place is the real beginning of tourism,' he said.

So from 1876 this was a nursery supplying food to the railway hotels in town and the visitors to the railway cafes. Lucky them, their soil was shipped in from Ireland. The local port shipped out slate and brought soil back as ballast.

But enough of the history. What about community gardening? Peppercorn rents have allowed various groups to have a go at community gardening, well, gardening for the community, trying to provide box schemes for locals to have organic produce.

Like Bosavern, in far Southern Cornwall,  distribution is difficult. Chatting to Rosie and Olivier, two of the present Green Isle group, Ms Tagalong bowed down before their dedication.

Patiently picking leaves from cut and come again lettuces, discarding the curled and browned, they had arrived by bike from Borth station.

They said they were relative novices but their credentials seemed pretty good to Ms Tagalong. All four had met at CAT and were using this as a learning experience, what grew well here and what didn't. Not a good Summer to be experimenting really, thought Ms T. What could survive deluge, perhaps?

But it was time for a cup of tea, Ms Tagalong and Mr Ideasman went back to the main house which used to be the office for the railways and spent a happy hour discussing things artistic and Antipodean with Peter and Lynne who are the artists and masterminds behind Colourscape. You never know who you'll meet!

Peter and Lynne's restored greenhouse
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