Monday, 1 November 2010

Out with the old and in with the new!

Well over the weekend I took the opportunity to do some tidying up and armed with all of your suggestions from the other week headed off to the garden centre in search of some winter windowsill produce. I managed to get hold of some garlic, winter salad leaves, sping onions and cos lettuces which all said that they were ok to be planted at this time of year and I also picked up some cress and mustard too to keep me busy.

When I got back I spent some time pottering around and cleared out one of the windowsills where all of the former tomato plants were dead (I have left a little clump of oregano which was clinging on for dear life in the hope that it is going to revive itself) and in their place I have planted a row of the winter leaves and a row of the spring onions. It didn't mention anything on the label about starting them off inside so I have just planted them straight into the windowbox outside (not sure if this was a good idea or not!?!). Then I also removed the chilli plant which had only produced one short fat chilli and have planted three cloves of garlic in its place. Am looking forward to seeing whether anything sprouts or not!

I've left the other two windowboxes for the time being - one of them is still bursting with chillies and to keep them fresh I don't want to be picking them until we need them and the other one has lots of tomatoes that are a yellowish colour at the moment so I'm clinging on in the vain hope that they might turn red for me some day soon. I've also left the pot of mint in place and tidied it up removing all of the dead stalks and it's sprung back to life amazingly!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The last of the red tomatoes...

I decided to use up the last of the red tomatoes yesterday in a Jamie Oliver sausage and tomato bake for a hearty late lunch. This is an old favourite of ours but to make it into a one-pot wonder we add Charlotte potatoes that have just been sliced in half into the mix. It's so easy - you just throw it all into the roasting tin, whack it in the oven and give it a stir a few times and out comes a delicious meal! Yesterday I also added in a few sprigs of our fresh windowsill oregano too. And the best thing is, we had quite a bit of the gorgeous tomatoey, balsamicy sauce left over which is going to go great with some penne for today's lunch, finished off with some gratings of parmesan and more fresh oregano leaves over the top.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Winter windowsill

Now that the fruits of my labour over the summer are on their way out I have been wondering whether there is anything that I can put into my windowboxes over the winter months so that I've still got something exciting going on and I'm not just staring at bare earth with a few scrappy plants for several months. From an initial Google I was rather disappointed as it seemed very much that I'd missed the boat and should have been thinking about this a long while back in August. However, then I found this great page on the Garden Organic website which shows that October is a fine month to be planting a whole range of things - garlic, autumn set onions, chinese leaves, lambs lettuce, winter lettuce and more... I was watching an episode of the City Gardener the other day on 4oD where they were putting garlic and onion sets into pots for the patio so I'm fairly confident that I should be able to grow them in pots on the windowsill but of the leafy suggestions, not having an idea of size, I can't work out which might be ok for the windowsill.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Food from the sky

Well a few weeks ago I promised to report back from a garden that I visited on the Capital Growth Open Gardens day when garden's across London opened their doors to the public. Keeping in the vain of my windowsill garden I decided to visit another aerial garden called "Food from the Sky" which is on the roof of Budgen's supermarket in Crouch End in North London.

I found it a fabulously inspiring visit with old recycling boxes carefully placed around the roof that had all manner of exciting vegetables growing in them from salad leaves, tomatoes and peppers right through to fruit trees and there were some flowers thrown in for good measure as well along with egg boxes dotted around the place that had been put to equally good recycled use as seed starter trays. Amazing!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A pleasant surprise

Continuing in the theme of the dying contents of our windowsill our mint was not looking at all happy. All of the branches and stems had gone woody and the leaves crinkled and brown and so there I was about to chuck it out when I had a look down into the pot and there were loads of small bright green leaves growing up from the base of the pot.

So it looks like I might have a mint revival on my hands!


Saturday, 16 October 2010


As a novice gardener in her first year of gardening I was becoming a bit disillusioned - the excitement of the spring and summer when new things seemed to be happening every day had passed and the plants just seemed to be on a slow decline to death. I'd been walking past them and rather than getting the joy of earlier months I was getting a sinking feeling as they just started to look more and more dead every day.

But the other day I decided to pick myself up and have a proper look at them all and look for the positives - we had lots of bright red chillies and tomatoes just waiting to be picked and the oregano still seems to be coming on great guns.

We also had no food in the house for dinner and had just got back from a trip away so the fact that we had these bright juicy fat red chillies and tomatoes just crying out to be picked was a great little present. So I heated up the hob and chucked four of the chillies in the pan to blacken them all over. Then in went the tomatoes along with some chopped spring onions, garlic and the finely chopped stalks of a bunch of parsley that I found lying around in the fridge. Meanwhile I got a big pot of boiling water on the go to cook some pasta in. Once all of the veggies had fried down a bit I bashed up the chillies, added a tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of drained chickpeas and left it all to simmer away while the pasta cooked. Once the pasta was done I added a ladelful of the pasta water to the sauce, chucked the pasta in and stirred it around along with the chopped parsley leaves and salt and pepper to taste. A perfect meal inspired by the windowsill and the store cupboard!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Roasted peppers and chorizo

So on Friday night we attempted to use up our two sweet peppers that had turned red. There's a delicious chorizo, roasted pepper and rocket sandwich that I first tasted at Borough Market from the Brindisa stall about 10 years ago (they still sell them so if you find yourself in London on a Friday or Saturday head down to Borough and check them out for yourself!) which I thought would be perfect for using up our two little peppers.

So, I covered them in olive oil and placed them in the oven on 180 until they were blackened all over as usual. Unfortunately I hadn't banked on the fact that little peppers will have thinner skins and sadly by blackening them all over they were actually just burnt straight through and so there was no sweet, roasted flesh behind the blackened skin to peel away. Luckily though as they were so tiny I had supplemented them with a larger shop bought pepper that was perfectly cooked so stuck that in the plastic bag until the skin was ready to peel off.

Then I fried up my chorizo and placed them into a ciabatta loaf along with the roasted peppers and a good wedge of rocket. Served alongside a cold beer and some roasted anya potaotes it was the perfect way to unwind after a hectic week at work.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Urban places, growing spaces

Earlier on in the summer, following a tip-off from camillap at Seeds and the City, I popped along to the South Bank to visit the Union Street Urban Orchard. It was a tiny space on a back street in Southwark next to a parking lot and the railway line which had been taken over for the summer by some enthusiastic growers as part of the London Festival of Architecture. It was overflowing with fruit trees and vegetables that were busy ripening in this unusal setting. I found it completely inspiring and hopefully made some passers by think about the unusual spaces that they might have available to them to start growing some fruit or vegetables in.

In a similar vain it's the Capital Growth Open Gardens Day today so I've been having a look at what gardens there are nestled in amongst the city. Along the windowsill lines there's a garden on the roof of Budgen's in Crouch End, North London so I thought that it would be interesting to go and check it out. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Autumnal cooking

Well as the days get colder and the nights close in, it feels more and more right to get some warming autumnal meals on the table. And so the other night we cooked up a cracking shepherd's pie. To give it a windowsill twist we used up some of the chives and parsley that's been growing all summer to make the mash all herby and delicious.

I tend to vary my recipe for shepherd's pie each time I make it depending on what ingredients I've got in the flat at the time so here's what went in to this one. Finely chop and fry up an onion and some garlic, add diced carrots and celery and let it all cook over a low heat until all of the vegetables are soft and collapsing. Meanwhile fry the mince in a separate pan and, when browned, drain off all of the excess fat. When the vegetables have softened add thickly sliced large, flat mushrooms and cook them down as well. Stir through the mince, add a good glug of Worcestershire sauce, a tin of chopped tomatoes, some tomato puree and dried mixed herbs. Stir all of the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. Place into a pyrex dish with a lid and then into an oven preheated to 180 degrees and leave it all bubbling away and the flavours mixing together whilst you get on with the mash.

Add chopped potatoes and parsnips to salted boiling water and leave them until they are soft enough to fall off a knife. Drain, reserving a small amount of the cooking liquid and mash with lots of butter, salt and pepper. Add in chopped chives and parsley and stir through.

Remove the meat from the oven and scoop the mashed potato and parsnip mix on top. Smooth it out so that it evenly covers the surface and make a nice pattern with a fork. Cover with grated Gruyere cheese and place back in the oven without the lid this time. Leave for 45 minutes and then it is ready to serve. Serve with peas. Yum!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Green tomatoes, brown patches

Over the past few days I've noticed that some of the green tomatoes have developed small brown patches. From googling the phenomena the only thing that I've been able to find is that they might have late blight, although all of the photos of tomatoes with late blight on the internet look a little different to the patches on my tomatoes. Has anyone got any advice about what has happened to my tomatoes and what I should be doing about it?

Friday, 17 September 2010

Cabbage white butterfly eggs

A few days ago I noticed that some more eggs had been laid on one of our chilli plants. Following an internet search I think that they must be the eggs of a cabbage white butterfly. All of the blogs that I have read on these say that you should destroy the eggs, rubbing them off with soapy water but I like the idea of encouraging biodiversity through our windowsills and don't really want to go around killing eggs. Is this a really bad idea and will the caterpillars end up munching right through our windowbox?

It also seems that it must have been quite a confused butterfly that laid it's eggs there. From the information on the British Butterfly Conservaton Society's website the eggs are normally laid either on brassicas or on nasturtiums or wild mignonette. So a serrano chilli plant seems a little far removed from any of them!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Homemade harissa

One of the chillies out on the windowsill is starting to change colour which reminds me that I never blogged about what we did with our first chilli harvest a few weeks back now.

We had four bright red, windowsill grown chillies just waiting to be cooked with something tasty and so we decided to make harissa paste with them. Unfortunately it is a tale much like the cherry tomatoes of the other night where to make the harissa you need 250g of chillies (great for those of you out there with heaving chilli plants!). This is slightly more than four so our trusty chillies were added in with some others.

The recipe that I used was out of the Moro cookbook and it says that it will last in the fridge for a couple of weeks. So to make the paste you have to cut the chillies in half and remove the seeds. Then you blend them in a food processor with ground caraway seeds and cumin seeds, 4 cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt. Then add a roasted, skinned and seeded red bell pepper and blitz again until smooth. Once it's smooth stir in a dessertspoon of tomato puree, a dessertspoon of red wine vinegar, two level teaspoons of sweet smoked paprika and six tablespoons of olive oil. And there you have it!

We then took our homemade harissa paste and used it to make harissa roast chicken (see p217 of the Moro cookbook) accompanied with fried potatoes (p232). Absolutely gorgeous!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Indoor chillies: Outdoor chillies

We've been noticing a funny phenomenon in our windowsill chillies. The chillies that are outside on the windowsill appear to have grown in a completely different shape to the ones that we've had to keep inside on the table as there wasn't enough space out on the windowsill. The ones outside are long and skinny whilst the ones inside are short and fat.

It could be the temperature difference, or it could be the difference in pot sizes (the ones inside are still in those tiny pots that we initially transplanted them into).

Anyone else noticed this type of phenomenon and have any idea why it has happened?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cherry tomatoes on the table

Well last night we used up all of our cherry tomatoes that were currently red. Unfortunately one of the problems with the windowsill is that whilst everything is very tasty and it is hugely satisfying to have grown this veg ourselves, quantity-wise we are always a little lacking in having enough of anything for a whole meal. So last night we had around ten of our homegrown tomatoes but they had to be supplemented from some shop bought ones (you can see the difference between our smaller, more misshapen but brighter red tomatoes versus the uniform shop bought ones).

We cooked them in a nice simple pasta dish that is easy to whack on and cook when you get home from work. While the pasta is cooking you put the cherry tomatoes in a pan and heat them up with a glass of white wine. When it starts to simmer nicely put in a good dollop of creme fraiche and leave it all simmering away. Then once the pasta is cooked drain it and then pour your sauce over it and at the last minute stir through a good handful of rocket (such a shame our windowsill grown rocket never took off as otherwise it could have been a windowsill grown produce bonanza). Serve with shaved parmesan and lots of black pepper on top.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

In desperate need of some tlc!

Our poor little windowsill plants have been rather neglected over the past month or so as general life has taken over and all got a bit hectic. This has led to some pretty dead looking plants as can be seen from the picture below. So today I have spent a few hours now giving them some much needed tlc and chopping away a lot of unneeded foliage in a bid to try and put a bit of life back into them.

The ones that went for a tumble unfortunately didn't get moved back out on the windowsill from the fireplace until just now and leaving them in the fireplace has made them go a bit crazy and grow all over the place. They had grown so many new leaves that they were all starting to die on the inside and some of the tomato plants needed major chopping back pretty much right to the stem. And when I started to chop heavily back I also found some pretty dead oregano plants that had been completely smothered out.

However there are some little sprigs of hope so fingers crossed it's not too late to save them. I've put the troughs back out onto the windowsill now so we'll have to wait and see whether or not it's now too late in the season for them to regrow and get any tomatoes.

It's not all bad though and we've got some very healthy looking sweet peppers and cherry tomatoes that are almost ready to harvest. Yum!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Taking a tumble

Well there has been no news on the blog of late as I've been away from the windowsill with work. And what a time to go away! A few days in to my trip I had an email from the guy that lives downstairs saying that our troughs were in his front garden. Oh dear... the weather has been so awful in London that the wind had picked up the two troughs on the living room windowsills and deposited them in the garden. Thank goodness they were only plastic ones and not terracotta!

The damage doesn't seem too bad anyway, we lost quite a few green tomatoes and one of the sweet peppers (which is starting to turn red as well!) has split but asides from that they don't seem to be too bad which is lucky. They've had a few days to recouperate back in the fireplace but I think we'll need to pluck up the courage to put them back out on the windowsill soon or otherwise they'll start growing in that crazy way like they did before in the fireplace.

There was some damage to the chilli plant in the trough on the kitchen windowsill which didn't tumble in to the garden too and the plant snapped right in half so has had to be chopped right back unfortunately. Fingers crossed the worst of the weather is now behind us!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Feeling hot, hot, hot!

Look at our chillies now! From being completely green a week ago, to starting to see red patches on Thursday, they are now bright red all over!

I never realised that when they turned red it would happen so quickly. You can see them shining out now in all their red glory when you're walking back down the road - puts a smile on my face every time.

Verdict: Wahaca chilli seeds - success!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Perfect hangover cure

Last Sunday we both woke up feeling pretty special having had one too many beers/gin and tonics the night before... After a rather slow start to the morning we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and become compos mentis enough to think about getting some pans out of the cupboard. A glass of orange juice and this Mexican breakfast - from the good old Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers again - sorted us out completely.

Fried corn tortillas layered with smoky tomato sauce made from tinned tomatoes, chillies, garlic, onions, sugar and lots of chopped tarragon topped off with a fried egg, grated crumbly cheese like Wensleydale or Lancashire and more chopped tarragon and accompanied by a good cup of coffee. A great pick me up after a heavy night the night before and perfect Sunday soul food.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Daddy long legs...?

The other day we had a long-legged visitor to our pepper plant. He was moving so quickly all over it that it was really tricky to get a good photo but I managed it eventually. Looking at some spider i.d. guides online the only spider with long legs I can find is the daddy long legs but I'm not sure that he looks exactly the same as them.

Does anyone know if he is definitely a daddy long legs or not?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Flowers on the sickly tomato plants!

Well the poor little tomato plants that I had to completely chop back to pretty much nothing after I put them out on the windowsill and they got battered by the wind have just started to produce flowers! It's great to see how they've sprung back to life after the ordeal. I'm not sure that we'll get massive amounts of fruit off them but I'm pleased to see they recovered.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A shade of red

I should blog about my discontent with the plants more often... Check this out!

Just 4 days after I blogged about the lack of progress with the chillies changing colour, tonight we have realised that two of our chillies are on the turn. So despite the fact that it has been pretty much pouring in London all week the chillies are battling on through and getting on with getting red anyway. That's made my day. Fantastic!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A few more sunny days like today is what we need!

If only the weather could stay sunny like it is today. Then maybe my poor green chillies would have more of a hope of turning red at some point soon. They are all looking very healthy and now all, bar one of my plants have got several chillies on them each (even the ones that I've had to keep indoors!) but they are all still staying resolutely green with not even the tiniest hint of redness coming out yet.

Being entirely new to this gardening malarkey I have no idea how long I should be expecting to wait for chillies (or peppers in general I guess?) to turn red. Can anyone offer me any advice as to how long these things normally take? The three chillies that have been around for the longest don't seem to have changed at all in three or four weeks now since they stopped getting any bigger but they are still showing no signs of changing colour...

Friday, 6 August 2010

New cookbooks!

I had some money left at the end of last month so I decided to order a couple more cookbooks and they've just arrived!

Bit of a restaurant themed cookbook shop with the first of the River Cafe and Moro books. Great to have some new inspiration and can't wait to get started cooking some of the recipes out of them.

We're actually off for dinner at Moro in a few weeks time too, been once before and really looking forward to heading back again!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Honey and peanut butter booster bars

Not strictly something that would come from the windowsill (although I guess you could claim that sunflower seeds could have done if our sunflowers had produced any...) but these booster bars are so tasty that I couldn't resist blogging about them! They make the perfect addition to a lunchbox to munch on when you get a little peckish whilst working. The recipe comes from Hugh's book River Cottage Everyday which has a fabulous section all about lunchboxes.

You start off by warming unsalted butter, honey, soft brown sugar and crunchy unsweetened peanut butter over a very low heat until it is all melted and mixed together. Stir it occasionally to make sure everything is getting properly mixed.

Once it is melted down take it off the heat and add in porridge oats, dried fruit (one or a mixture of sultanas, raisins, apricots, figs, dates, prunes etc...) and seeds (I used a mix of sesame, linseed, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed). Stir it all together so that the melted concoction is nicely holding all of the fruit and seeds together and then spread it out into a baking tray that has been lined and greased. Scatter the top with a few more mixed seeds and drizzle with some extra honey.

Place the tray in an oven preheated to 180 degrees and leave it for half an hour until it is nicely golden all over. When you take it out of the oven place it on a rack to cool and make sure it is completely cold (this takes quite a while!) before trying to cut it up into perfect lunchbox sized bars.

Monday, 2 August 2010

A week in the life of a pepper plant

I am completely amazed at the speed at which our sweet peppers are growing! I can pretty much see them growing day by day with the increase in size from when I leave for work in the morning and get home in the evening. And where last weekend we had two little peppers, at the start of this week we've got five! And properly pepper shaped peppers now too rather than the little green nodules I blogged about before (the picture below is of the same fruit that is in the photograph of the July 24th post).

In other windowsill news our most productive fruiting tomato plant is getting more tomatoes by the day and we've started to get a few buds and flowers on some of the other plants.

It's amazing how much joy a few little plants on a windowsill can bring...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Itsy bitsy spider

We had a spider visitor to the windowsill the other day. I think that it was a male garden spider (Araneus diadematus) although if you think otherwise then please let me know! It never ceases to amaze me how much wildlife actually manages to find its way up onto our windowsill considering it's only a few small plants but it's wonderful none-the-less. Here you can see one of the chillies on the chilli plant that was placed outside a few weeks ago. That plant has now got six little chillies coming along on it. Still waiting for the big chillies to even look slightly like they are going to start turning red though... They are still looking green as a cucumber!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Tomato plant recovery

The poor little tomato plant that took such a battering in the wind when I first put it outside a few weeks ago seems to be recovering well. It's got loads of new shoots on it now that are doubling in size every day at the minute so it seems to be fighting back.

I'm really hoping that it's going to come back from the brink and actually produce some flowers and fruits!

Monday, 26 July 2010

Gnome from the north

With the transfer of our green troughs out to the windowsill a few weeks ago our little chrome gnome from the north has moved outside with them. Here he is shining away happily watching the world go by. He also appears to bring good fortune to the plants he shares a windowsill with as we've now got chillies, sweet peppers and tomato plants all fruiting out on that ledge. Maybe it's the sun reflecting off his shiny hat...

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