Full of beans

shallots in the greenhouse

Chilling winds have swept through our corner of Bedfordshire, and I find myself absolutely LONGING for the balmy skies when the thermometer was peaking in the mid 20s. The veg plots and flower borders continue to romp ahead regardless, and bit by bit, my little veg patches are starting to fill up. Much to my surprise, actually.

This year, with a little family in tow, I’ve had my work cut out and my expectations for growing were low. I wanted to keep it simple, opting for tried and tested varieties of fruit and veg and minimising the amount of sowing and potting on I’d usually do… but somehow I can’t help myself when it comes to growing fruit and veg. Already, I’ve planted in new varieties of strawberries and raspberries, and with widespread discount promotions on packets of seeds, I just cannot resist.

Whether I actually get around to sowing on time, is another matter. But I’ve got further this year than I thought I would, and that’s got to be a bonus. Rich’s time has been severely limited, as he spends the majority of his waking hours stuck to a laptop or computer, furiously programming in a bid to keep us afloat whilst I’m on maternity leave. My end of the bargain is to try and keep things running, look after E as she grows and develops at an alarming rate, beat back chaos with an invisible stick, try to keep the house from descending into chaos, and try to feed us all on a budget.

So apart from Rich helping out with the odd lawn mow, it’s all down to me this year. I’ve started off the shallots in the greenhouse, waiting for the sun to warm to the soil and the risk of frost to pass before planting in situ. Shallots are one of my all-time favourite homegrown staples. I’ve also opted for some dwarf bean plug plants, as my ability to water regularly and give seedlings the TLC they deserve is limited more than usual. I am not organised, despite all the will in the world and a very real motivation to do things right, and do things well.

I’ve started a few beans up a willow obelisk, more for decorative purposes than anything really as I love the homespun potager approach to little kitchen gardens. I’ve also planted in a few nasturtiums – partly as companion plants and partly because I love their cascading haphazardness, and the delicate but boldly coloured blooms. Next on the agenda is constructing a pea harp for edible peas and scented sweet peas. It’s a bit of an ambitious task given that E will only tolerate so much time playing in the garden alongside me as I work before she starts screeching like a mini siren…but hey ho, a girl’s got to dream!

beans and willow wigwam

Vegan Easter weekend feast

We’ve already been spoiled here in Bedfordshire this April, with bright blue skies and highs of 21C last weekend. And although the tulips and daffodils seemed to be positively basking in the summery haze, this week’s chilly breezes are serving as a stark reminder not to get too ahead of ourselves. It’s still spring; cardigans and tights are still very much required, and with Easter only a few days away, we have the perfect weather for a celebratory warming roast.

Lentil squash vegan pie

Where lamb is the traditional centrepiece in British Easter feasts, my vegan take on an Easter main dish is a hearty squash and lentil pie. I hadn’t tried making this particular pie before, but for my roast I wanted a subtle nod to middle eastern cuisine in honour of the origins of the Easter story (recipe below). Accompanied with the usual roast potatoes, parsnips and veggies, it turned out to be a mini shortcrust-encased triumph.

Lentil butternut squash vegan pie

Thanks to Debenhams and their Home collection, for this Easter roast dinner I had a few new kitchen utensils to play with, including a 20 cm copper base saucepan; something I’ve always coveted due to excellent heat conductivity of the copper. (The saucepan’s handy in-built strainer is also a winner, as now I’m officially a busy mum anything that makes life that little bit easier is so, so welcome). You can also check out the multi-use black Joseph Joseph Cut&Carve chopping board here.

Joseph Joseph cut and carve chopping board

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND LENTIL PIE RECIPE

(serves 4-6)

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 medium red onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 tin green lentils
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
Vegetable stock
Fresh rosemary sprig or dried rosemary to taste
Dried sage to taste
Mixed herbs to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Olive oil for cooking

For vegan shortcrust pastry
200g/7oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
50g TREX vegetable fat, cubed
50g dairy free spread, cubed
Cold water

METHOD

Preparing the pastry in advance
1. Sift flour into a bowl, add the salt and rub together the flour and fat to make a breadcrumb consistency.
2. Add a little water at a time (around 1tsp per ounce of flour) gradually to the mixture, making sure the dough does not become too wet. Keep combining the water and fat/flour mix until the breadcrumbs begin to stick together and hold.
3. Knead in the bowl until the dough is smooth and doesn’t crack.
4. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pastry. If needed, roll flat onto cling film and refrigerate.

Pie filling
1. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
2. Boil butternut squash and sweet potatoes in salted water or with veg stock. Meanwhile, dice onions and finely chop garlic.
3. Once the squash and sweet potato has boiled, set aside until the onions and garlic have softened, then combine boiled veg. Add enough water with veg stock powder to keep the ingredients from burning.
4. Drain the tin of green lentils and add to the mixture, as well as a liberal helping of sage and mixed herbs. Then add the dijon mustard, tomato puree and a fresh rosemary sprig (to be removed before decanting into a dish).
5. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes and stir occasionally; the mixture should become thicker. Drain off any liquid if necessary and add tomato puree to help thicken if required.
6. Remove pastry from fridge and roll out. Take a shallow casserole dish or pie dish and pour in pie filling ingredients. Lay pastry over the top, trim the edges and crimp. Prick the pastry in a couple of places, and wash with soya milk or almond milk.
7. Cook in oven for 30-40 mins until pastry goldens.

So there it is – something a little bit different to enjoy this Easter weekend. We’ve got plenty of portions of pie to enjoy, so they’ll be going in the freezer ready for another round of roast potatoes and parsnips, and some tasty homegrown veg!

orange tulips

Kitchen garden in January


It’s not even a month since the Winter Solstice and already I’m noticing that we’re already starting to gain a little more light in the evenings. It’s not much, but it’s definitely a positive!

Last Sunday – despite dreary grey skies and wet ground underfoot, I took the baby and the buggy into the garden at 4pm. Whilst E slept after a being wheeled a few short circuits around the garden, I raked and collected up the last of the leaves for the leaf bin. I worked until just before 5pm, when the light was diminishing rapidly by the minute. Just three weeks ago it would have been impossible to work past 4:30pm… so I can’t complain.

Collecting up the last of the autumn leaves and clearing away last year’s homegrown cosmos flowers were two small but significant jobs that have been lingering on an ever-growing list of Things To Do This January. My Smallest Smallholding may well take a pause in January, but for me it gives me a little breathing space to catch up on a whole host of jobs, before everything kickstarts once again in the spring.

Frosty raspberry leaf backlit by sunshine

Realistically, with a 4 1/2 month in tow, I can only grab snatches of time here and there. To pretend I have hours on hand to potter and preen will do me no favours. So I need to keep the momentum going to keep on top of everything that needs doing.

One thing I’ve learned about parenthood is that I have to work around my new routine. So my To Do List needs to be simple and straightforward. That way, I can tick, tick, tick off the boxes and feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Here’s a few jobs that I’ve lined up for January and February at The Smallest Smallholding:

– Cut down autumn fruiting (primocane) raspberry canes
– Weed & mulch veg plots
– Continue cutting back brambles and pulling up nettles in the overgrown patch
– Plant garlic and winter onions (it’s still relatively warm and February – the coldest month – is still to come)
– Tidy long border
– Plant the last tulip bulbs (eek)
– Prune buddleias, roses and clematis
– Chit potatoes