How did four weeks pass me by? I knew I’d missed a couple but would have sworn it was only a fortnight.

The herbs are doing well.

Ok, the sage and rosemary are. I have a fantastic sage butter pasta recipe but I need to make it again so I can take a picture. Because buttery pasta flecked with sage is so hard to imagine.

I somewhat ran with things once I’d done some planting and created an entire vegetable garden.

It looks nice when the lawn is mown. The crucial thing was that I spent very little. The paving slabs were coming up from a patio I’m changing, the cobbles were taken from around the pond that we’re changing and the pots were knocking around (some more heavily knocked than others!). I read something about French potage gardens and loved the idea of mixing in some flowers. I love alpines but wasn’t sure where to put them. In my potage garden naturally!

As if that wasn’t enough I got the husband involved and he built me a planter from old bits of decking. It’s placed on what used to be patio and the trellis will get trimmed soon. It was a quick solution to stop Morley and Satch using the bed as a litter tray!

Look inside! I grew these from seeds (the other stuff was all plug plants)
Radishes, two types of lettuce and... a surprise! I’ve still got the packets if I can’t work it out when they get bigger.

It’s been good fun as we’ve been able to get some fresh air and not work constantly on the businesses. Baby also seems quite fond of watching us labour so that was good.

Tonight between cooking dinner and editing client work I baked a cake I haven’t made in years. I used to make it when I did a lot of walking as a teenager as it kept well and was highly calorific. Seems crazy that the latter was a positive.

I’ve returned to it for a number of reasons. I’m already baking more as a life without treats seems pretty miserable and cake is cheaper than wine but I’m trying to look to traditional recipes to further push the budget. Over the years I’ve got into the habit of making luxurious fruit, nut and chocolate cakes. Almonds instead of flour, an entire jar of Nutella; it was hugely decadent but rare.

These were cakes that would have been alien to my grandmothers, particularly my father’s mother. Granny was a straightforward cook. Actually scrap that. She was a terrible cook but she baked well. Simple, practical cakes to sustain my farmer Grandad.

Sticky Gingerbread

This makes enough for a large roasting dish. I’m going to cut mine in three, wrap two in greaseproof paper then foil and freeze them. I won’t lie, you’re going to use a lot of pans.

Ingredients:


  • 225g butter
  • 225g black treacle
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 340g plain flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ pint milk
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method:


  1. Grease and line a roasting tin with greaseproof paper. If it’s a manky old pan then your cake will taste of manky old pan. Be warned.
  2. Melt butter, treacle and sugar together in a large saucepan.
  3. Mix flour and spices in a big bowl.
  4. Heat milk to blood temperature and stir in bicarbonate of soda. Blood temperature is just body temperature but sounds far more gothic and it’s nice to counterbalance the vintage baking with a bit vampiric pondering.
  5. Add treacle mix to the flour and stir really well, scraping from the bottom. It takes a while but don’t use a mixer.*
  6. Once you have a nice homogenous mix, beat in the eggs. Actually I sometimes do this to help it along. I certainly don’t beat them beforehand. Another bowl would be the death of me.**
  7. Add the milk gradually. If you’re like me you’ll start slowly, get bored then make it hard on yourself. Persevere, it will come together. Do not consider using an electric whisk!
  8. Pour into your prepared cake tin and bake at 150°C for 45 minutes. Check and perhaps add a piece of greaseproof paper on top if it’s browning but not cooked. It’s done when a skewer comes out clean.
  9. It keeps really well. I’m simply freezing it because the husband and I lack will power and this is going to last three weekends. 
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The beautiful lining was done by the husband. I am rubbish at it (too impatient) and usually get crinkled cake edges.
* It stretches the gluton or something. I used to know this stuff as I did a course with the Leith School of Cookery but I’ve been bunging stuff together for over a decade and just know what works without remembering the theory.

** Joke! I obviously mean dishwasher.

 
Some months ago I showed the husband the above video. He liked it (so much that “all retch and no vomit” is his current sig on forums) but as we tend to do, it was filed away in our minds. I find the statement “this video will change your life” which usually accompanies this video to be a touch hopeful but nevertheless, it can be a catalyst to change.

On Monday, the husband and I made a change because for us the answer to the question of what we would like to do if money were no object was easy to answer. We’d like to spend time together with our son, explore creative projects. He’d play the guitar and I’d bake. We’d travel and recreate the highlights of our travels thus taking the experience into our very souls.

For starters he’d quit his job.

Friday was his last day.

And breathe!

Now we’re not totally mad. We’ve got three months worth of mortgage, council tax etc in the joint account if we live frugally. I own a successful marketing agency, let out a number of properties and we’re about to launch a business I have high hopes about. This is probably about as calculated a risk as we could make and we’re in a fortunate position but it is very scary. Still, our son won’t be tiny forever and at five months old he’s just getting really awesome.

I’m returning to The Thursday Column to chart this journey. Hopefully it’ll be something to look back on fondly from our holiday home in Istanbul a few years down the line. I’m thinking the husband is making some tea while I glance over my files as a reminder of how it all began before the interviewer arrives to do one of those god awful pieces on women who have perfect lives and who you always hope have cellulite.*

I really hope that is what happens.

Meanwhile, as I dream of drinks overlooking the Blue Mosque (I have done this before, it’s utterly gorgeous) my current activities are a little less grand. For I have planted herbs and fried falafel.


* I’ll have cellulite. Pinkie promise.

The Herb Pot

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I have always failed at growing herbs so was rather excited to read an article in the March edition of Red Magazine that was all about easy to grow herbs, reliable vegetables and so forth. Rosemary, thyme and sage were thus on my list to try. Imagine my joy then a couple of weekends ago when on Gardener’s World (it was the first time I’ve seen it and boys was it exciting) Monty Don explained how to plant just these three. I waited as long as I could before bounding upstairs to wake the husband to talk about horticultural grit.

He took my enthusiasm rather well considering he’d been up between 2.15 and 5.45 with our son who was rather under the weather. It was 11am so he’d had chance to sleep in fairness and I had made him a coffee. That afternoon we headed out and spent £15 on grit, three plants and some plant food. Yikes! That’s hardly budgeting but I’m trying to have faith that we’ll have lots of herbs all summer and it’ll be worth it.

For this project I used:


  • Cobbles from a badly designed pond by my houses’ former owner
  • 1 large plastic container (left over from a plant my mum gave us for the garden)
  • Top soil from the hole my mum dug to insert plant into said garden
  • Horticultural grit (£3.99)
  • A Rosemary plant (£2.99)
  • A Sage plant (£2.99)
  • A Thyme plant (£1.49)
  • Herb food (£2.99)

 What I did:

  1.  Filled the container with cobbles to leave a space about 9 inches deep
  2. Mixed soil and grit 50:50 and planted the herbs within this
  3. Gave it all a good water, poured on some feed and put it in a sunny spot

Where I’ve been going wrong it seems is that these “Mediterranean” herbs like well drained soil and sun. By planting them in compost I was keeping them too damp.


Falafel

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Part of my plan is to eat good food as cheaply as possible. I had a 500g bag of dried chick peas and decided to make Falafel. I made 8 servings for around £3 which is great. Where the expense lies is the salad but I bought a punnet of “living salad” from Lidl and am hopeful of keeping it alive and reharvesting it.



Ingredients:
  • 1 litre vegetable oil (£1.59 from Tesco**)
  • About 100g plain flour (about 8p)
  • 500g dried chick peas (£1.09 from Tesco – I’m sure these can be bought in bulk for far less)
  • 3-4 small onions (about half of a 69p bag from Lidl)
  • ½ bulb of garlic (24p from Tesco)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium free range eggs (approx 70p from Tesco)
  • 3 tbsp Tahini paste (£1.49  for a 180g jar from Sainsbury’s)
  • 2 tbsp dried cumin
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

Method:
  1. Soak chick peas for 24 hours then simmer for an hour.
  2. Finely chop onion and garlic (I use a food processor) and sweat in olive oil until soft.
  3. Put 1/3 of the chick peas in the food processor with 1 tbsp Tahini paste and blitz. Add an egg and process until smooth. Scrape into a large bowl and repeat twice.
  4. Add onion mixture and spices and mix thoroughly.
  5. Heat oil in a large lidded pan until a small cube of bread sizzles upon contact.
  6. Take large dessert spoonfuls of falafel mix and drop into the flour, dust lightly then roll between your hands. Make 24 falafels.
  7. Using a slotted spoon lower the falafels into the hot oil. Only cook 3-4 at a time or you’ll lower the temperature of the oil. They’re ready when they’re a dark golden brown. Drain well on kitchen towel.
  8. I allowed three per person so kept six aside and froze the rest. While they taste best straight from the pan I was batch cooking late afternoon so to serve they went on a dry baking tray in a 180 oven for 15 minutes to warm through.



** Oil used for frying can be used three times. Just allow it to cool and decant back into the bottle. It looks manky I warn you.