Sunday, 6 October 2013

Violas, trumpets?

What wonderful weather we had this weekend! When it's over 20 degrees, you're in shorts and tee-shirt, it seems odd to be buying autumnal squash but they were so pretty. Also I noticed that the House of Lidl had a selection of heathers and bulbs in stock. Bulbs? Already? I hadn't realised that they had to be planted in late summer. Oh. Rookie gardener...

I had already clocked whilst sitting on the balcony admiring the group of swans, two adults and three large grey cygnets, that my tubs of greenery were looking rather worse for wear. Not really weather related but they have been there since the spring and they needed some refreshing.

When I say refreshing, I mean a wholesale grubbing up and replanting. Today we went down to the local plant emporium to see what was on special. I'd had a conversation about 'Eric Aceous' compost with  my mum before setting out - apparently Heather is only interested in this acerbic young man. Still, as it happens, I was distracted by the smiling faces of the little purple violas and the trumpeting miniature narcissi.

Violas, trumpets? I hope the neighbours at the illegal shisha bar opposite won't be complaining about the strains of classical music piping across the Cut.

I made a vast selection of bulbs, violas and some little variegated shrubs. Planting the small shiny silver and bronze bulbs was like burying treasure. I like to know these dry plants will be hiding for the rest of the year, only to pop out excitedly in the spring. And we all need a dash of colour in the darkest days. In the meantime, whilst they sit snuggly in the earth, the friendly purple of the violas will entertain us. They have now been transplanted to their new homes and all of the tubs have been filled.

There was a moment of ditz when I changed my mind about putting violas in round plant pots, so removed them, tipped out the compost and out fell some narcissi bulbs. I hope that I dug them all out of the bag, otherwise, I'll be having a colourful surprise when I next go in the compost.

I also refreshed the rosemary with extra compost. There had been a rookie gardener error earlier in the year when I crowded the herb with geranium so they have suffered in the flowers exuberance. So I shall see how they perk up. I've added a few viola around the base of the rosemary so the tubs don't look so thread bare. There may be the odd random bulb to come up in those tubs too.

So pics to follow and roll on spring!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fireworks of taste and festivals of heat

There is something about autumn which appeals to all senses. Like taking off sunglasses when entering the shade or removing earplugs in the morning, whatever has overcome your natural sight, hearing or whatever, Autumn is a rediscovery of intensity. The afternoon sun seems to saturate even the city trees and the morning damp grass smell permeates your layers; even though everything is dying, there is a vibrant melancholy. This sustains us as we move towards November and semi-permanent darkness.

So to have the London Chilli Festival in this amber, umber and burnt sienna world is perfect. Its location at Spitalfields City farm enhances the harvest festival feel and allows a welcome breath of wholesome air. This was before the smoky roasting, grilling and frying of various meats enveloped the occasion. This was the first of what will hopefully be a regular festival occurrence and the vendors at the various stalls were keen to educate, showcase and of course, sell their goods.

As you'd expect, most stalls were selling chilli based comestibles like sauces, dipping oils and dressings. Some had added frighteningly hot new varieties to piccachillis, jams and other condiments. My favourite stalls were the 'raw ingredient' ones, with the boggling range of dried chillies on offer from Capsicana Chilli Co making me salivate as I bought a selection. Pepper and Stew offered spice mixes to create African dishes at home. Other stalls were selling seeds and plants but my urge to garden has been replaced by the need to create some warming soups! 

Which is what I did this evening. Taking a Mexican pumpkin soup as my inspiration I adapted it to the ingredients available at home.

In a bowl, pour some hot water over a couple each of chipotle mora and Ancho Poblano and steep for 10-15 mins. At this point I couldn't resist inhaling the smoky, sweet fragrance from the two. 

Chop a large onion, several large courgettes, a red pepper and fry, allowing to singe slightly whilst stirring occasionally so they really soften. Letting them roast in the oven would have worked. Once the dried chillies are soft, chop roughly and blend to a thick paste with some of the liquid. Add a tin of tomatoes, the paste (don't drop some on your foot like I did) and the rest of the soaking liquid. Add seasoning, with a generous sprinkling of ground ginger, cumin, cinnamon and allspice - I added a sprinkle of celery salt which is very savoury. Stir well and add a little chicken/bacon/vege stock to loosen. 

Bring to the boil and reduce the heat so it simmers healthily for about 10-15 mins. Once the veg is soft, remove from the hob and blend. At this point my soup resembled a meaty sauce, thick and satisfying, so you could thin if you want something more polite. Personally, I would have also added some kidney beans if I'd had any... I ladled into bowls, drizzled with Dave's chilli oil, and sprinkled with strong cheese. It would have looked amazing with some chopped, fresh, green coriander leaf.

The soup's fragrance was that heady mix of bonfire night, cough pastilles, gingerbread and cinnamon hot chocolate. A soup to set off fireworks of taste and make one glad that the nights are finally drawing in.