Monday, 30 August 2010

Chocolate Courgette Loaf

No, no baby yet. But plenty of baking!

After confessing to my friend Lesley that we are being overrun by marrows, she brought my attention to a Green & Black’s recipe which can be found in their Chocolate Recipes book. It came as a surprise to me that we could turn those giant watery squashes (or at least 225g of them, anyway) into something completely deliciously rich and chocolatey...

Here's the recipe if you fancy giving it a go... :D

Chocolate Courgette Loaf

  • 175g very dark chocolate
  • 225g courgettes
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 175ml sunflower oil
  • 2 medium eggs
  • A 2lb loaf tin
  1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C / 350 deg F / gas mark 4
  2. Brush the tin with a little oil and line the base with greaseproof paper.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a bowl. I used the bain marie method.
  4. Finely grate the courgettes.
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix in the sugar and grated courgettes.
  6. In another bowl, beat together the oil and eggs. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Then stir in the melted chocolate.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 55-65 minutes.
  8. When the loaf comes out of the oven leave it to cool in the tin for at least 15 mins as it is very fragile when hot, then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely.
Before application of cartoon-style icing:

After application of cartoon-style icing:

Splurge! :D

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Delicious Marrow Recipe

Squiggles is late. Nine days late so far, and I must admit I'm getting impatient! Since the arrival and passing of the due date on 16th August, it feels like I'm waking up on Christmas morning over and over again, only to be told that it has been put off until the next day. You start to feel like Christmas will never come. It becomes harder and harder to believe in Christmas. You start thinking maybe you made Christmas up. Then you get a punch in the ribs (from the inside) and Christmas is real again, it's just not here yet.

Anyway. Why am I thinking about Christmas? Oh yes, because the weather has turned. To begin with we didn't quite believe it had turned for good, but now everyone seems to agree that there's a distinct taste of Autumn in the air, a cold and damp nip... The mushrooms are out (every day I go for a walk and spot at least three new varieties (new to me, anyway) from weird, big, black rotten toadstool things to tiny, delicate, bright red mushrooms. My dad thinks he's found an abundance of Death Caps. Which is worrying. But there are edible mushrooms too - nice creamy white (familiar looking and smelling ones) with blushing pink gills. The only problem is that we already have so much food from the garden that it's hard to make sure everything gets eaten before it goes off.

I've been admiring the developing nuts and berries on the trees alongside the lane (I'm trying to walk Squiggles out, which has meant I've had a good excuse to explore the surrounding area), and looking forward to picking and making use of them when they're ready. We've got loads of hazelnuts (and cobs), rowan berries, sloes, elderberries and acorns, as well as blackberries and wild raspberries by the stream. Being mostly at home (rather than regularly leaving to go on tour) has been such a great change, and has made me realise how over the past few years I've been logistically unable to keep an eye on the wild harvest, it would always be a matter of luck if I happened upon ripe berries or nuts... Now I see them every other day, which is giving me a chance to really get a feel for the turning of the seasons, as well as time to think about what I could make with them when they are finally ready. I'm pretty sure I'll be telling you about it as it happens!

Now, what to do about all of those overgrown courgettes?! OK, marrows. They're massive, and we just can't keep up with them! Yesterday I found myself meditating on the stripey green marrow which has been sitting on the kitchen worktop for about a week now, and wondering what to do with it. I've made plenty of Marrow Provencale over the past month or so, so I needed an alternative to that. I started thinking that I could stuff it, knowing I had half a packet of brown lentils taking up room in the back of a cupboard somewhere... Anyway, I happened to mention this idea to my mum and she gave me a delicious recipe which turned out beautifully - it comes from one of Nigel Slater's cookbooks, but is also to be found online here. Click on the link and go right to the bottom of the article. :D I served us half the marrow each, accompanied by a small portion of lightly boiled French Beans. I couldn't manage all of mine, half a stuffed marrow is quite the mountain of food. Now that I look at the recipe again, I see that it is supposed to serve 4. Yes, perhaps that's what I'll do next time, ha ha!

Right, better go for another walk in the rain. Ah, what a blissful August, eh? Ha ha.
Here's a pic my mum took of me at 40 weeks:

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Sorry for the lack of posts. I've been alternating between making preparations and resting up ready for the arrival of Squiggles. In fact yesterday was my due date, so clearly Squiggles plans to be fashionably late. Aside from that, I've also been trying to help my mum to stay on top of the vegetable garden in all of its abundance! For the first time in my life, I'm in a position of having too many courgettes, and feeling the pressure of seeing them turn into marrows virtually overnight... This could become stressful! Even more than the marrows, we have a glut of cucumbers - especially the round Crystal Lemons - it's making me think 'if only we lived closer to the road, then maybe we could set up a roadside stall...' Perhaps it's time to approach one or two of the little vegetable shops in town to see if they'd like to offer them up for sale?

A couple of days ago, we found ourselves making an assessment of what needed to be done in the garden, with the results showing that every bed needs something doing, whether it be weeding between the sprouting broccoli, digging up the potatoes or harvesting the runner beans. I took it upon myself to gather all of the ripe tomatoes, cucumbers (both Crystal Lemons and the long green Marketmores), as well as the runner beans and French beans. Yesterday I finally made use of a recipe for Runner Bean Chutney which was given to me by a friend who couldn't over-emphasise how good it tasted, but the mixture turned out quite runny so we'll see whether or not it was worth it when it's reached the three-month maturity stage.

I've been feeling quite frustrated with my suddenly slumping energy levels, especially when it comes to keeping the house clean (which I feel is important, as we are planning on having a homebirth!) - it seems like every day I only manage the washing up and maybe a small area of hoovering before I'm worn out, which means I'm only succeeding in staying still, despite all the effort. The kitchen and living room floors are covered in bits which have somehow come in from outside, and the cats are trying to gradually dye the stairs carpet a deep, rusty red (adding a little more colour with each new catch), and the bathroom is somehow coated in dust... Maybe it's always been this way, but the 'nesting' instinct has suddenly brought it into sharp focus? Also I'm afraid that I'm somehow on the way to becoming a housewife (albeit not a very good one) and that Phil will assume more and more that his input is no longer necessary... Hmm, it's not all good in my world right now, I might as well admit it.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

July Smallholding Update

The Baby: Yes, the baby has moved to the top of the list as (s)he's been the priority for me this month! :D We've now less than two weeks to go, and are pretty much as prepared as we're going to be (please ignore the filthy mirror in the above photo, ha ha). Physically, I've become quite uncomfortably cumbersome. I find myself out of breath even when climbing the stairs slowly, and have been having what can only be "practise labour" pains! Short distances have started to seem longer and longer, meaning I have to really think twice about heading down to the garden, or up the lane. I've started having a lie down in the afternoon, and even if I can't fall asleep it helps with the slump in energy levels. Squiggles is huge (so it seems to me!) and has very chunky feet which (s)he likes to regularly exercise against my ribcage, but at least (s)he's in the right position and is engaged and ready to go according to the scan we had last Thursday. Speaking of which, the head circumference measurements taken in the scan seemed to imply that the baby was more like a 39 week old than a 37.5 week old, though the abdomen was a little smaller than the average at this stage... We're going to have a baby with a massive head and a tiny body, argh!!! Phil is convinced that the baby will come sometime this week (wishful thinking, I reckon - he's probably just tired of me asking for help with the washing up), and I'm hoping it will come early too - isn't that what everyone wishes for, though?

Going to Aberystwyth for the scan meant that we could pick up loads of the bits and bobs we'd been promised, so we now have a huge quantity of prefolds, fleece liners/wipes, enough washable size 2 nappies to take us to potty training, a door bouncer, some washable breast pads and various other useful baby-related things... I feel ready now. Come on, Squiggles!

The Vegetable Garden: We've continued having our weekly smallholding supper (with extra variety almost every week), and everything seems on the verge of abundance. Phil and I haven't bought a single vegetable for a couple of weeks, and although we've been getting through a lot of potatoes, we're not tired of them yet. They just taste so good! Most of our meals are made from vegetables we've grown, perhaps with a bought addition such as a fillet of sea bass, a cheeky pie or some grated cheese. It feels great to gather what we need when we need it - it's so much healthier, and we're saving money too.

The Orchard: Plans are afoot for a massive cider-making project, as the old apple trees (which looked dead when we got here) are absolutely loaded with fruit now. Phil's been making blades for a machine which will chop up the fruit, and either we'll buy/borrow a secondhand press, or he will throw together some kind of apple press using a car jack or some such...

Drinks: While I'm on the subject of cider, I ought to mention that this month Phil's been inspired to start off some homemade wine - just some grape wine from cartons of juice, but it's great to see him getting excited about his demijohns! :D After I made a good quantity of elderflower cordial last month, I wanted to make a load more (but this time with citric acid so that it would last up to a year) but the rain came and destroyed the flowers, so I'll have to wait until next year for that now. Never mind, I followed the same recipe (for elderflower cordial) to make lemon balm cordial (with the citric acid) and it worked out beautifully, so I have a very refreshing replacement! This is the recipe:

Elderflower/Lemon Balm Cordial

20-30 freshly picked heads elderflower (or a big bowlful of lemon balm leaves)
granulated sugar
4-5 lemons, for juice
tartaric/citric acid (optional, keeps for several weeks in fridge without it)

1. Place elderflower heads/lemon balm leaves in a large bowl and cover them completely with just-boiled water (about 1.5 - 2 litres). Cover and leave overnight.

2. Strain liquid through muslin, gently squeezing to extract all the juice.

3. Measure the amount of liquid, and pour it into a large saucepan. To every 500ml of liquid, add 350g sugar, 50ml of fresh lemon juice, and a heaped teaspoon of tartaric/citric acid (if using).

4. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, stirring occasionally. Bring to gentle simmer and skim off the scum.

5. Let the cordial cool, then strain once again through muslin, pour through a funnel into clean bottles (sterilised if you'll be keeping it) - filling them to within about 2-3cm of top. Seal with screw-tops or corks.

6. To serve, dilute to taste with ice-cold water - at least 5:1 water to cordial.

The Polytunnel: The cucumber plants had been starting to turn the polytunnel into a hazardous jungle, preventing access to most of their hidden fruits, as well as the courgettes. Something had to be done, so I hacked away ruthlessly until we could walk between them and the pepper plants. The tomatoes are doing really well, the fruits are much sweeter than they were in the early stages - much softer and tastier and more like we'd hoped they would be. :D The 'Gold Rush' courgettes are also very fruitful - and as they are my favourite vegetable I've been happy to eat so many.

Pests: With the coming of the rain we have seen a huge increase in the slug population. I don't want to talk about how it feels to snip their rubbery, oozy bodies in half with the slug scissors.

Wild Food: The crab apples are growing (imperceptibly!) but won't be fully ripe until late winter. And we've got our eyes on the masses of hazelnuts in the hedgerows and up the lane, though the chances are that the squirrels will get to them before they're ready to pick. Phil has been bringing back all sorts of mushrooms and fungi from his long walks with the cats, but upon examination most have turned out to be worthless in the kitchen. My dad found some horse mushrooms (which were strongly flavoured), but won't tell us where on the land they were growing!