Weekly writing prompt challenge: History

Choose an object at random and write 100 words imagining its history.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Easy Patatas Bravas style Mediterranean potato recipe

I love doing fried potato recipes. This is like patatas bravas but a little different. Instead of being fried potatoes with a separate dipping sauce, this puts everything together during the cooking process. It’s a one-pan recipe that’s quicker and easier than a “traditional” patatas bravas recipe. Oh, and it’s vegan and delicious served with Spanish chicken (or tofu)!

As you will see from the photos, it’s not very photogenic. But I strongly believe that some of the most delicious food doesn’t photograph very well, and that there are a great many beautiful looking dishes on Instagram that would be absolutely disgusting to actually eat. It’s also not very spicy (but full of flavour) making it a perfect recipe for younger children, people with dentures and fussy eaters, too! Just put it through the blender before feeding to little ones who don’t have all their teeth, yet.

Ingredients:

150g potatoes, peeled and diced

6 cherry tomatoes

A handful of fresh thyme

2 tsp paprika

1/2 onion diced

1 pinch garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Peel and dice the potatoes and put in a pan to boil with a pinch of paprika. When the potatoes are done, drain and put aside. Wipe out the pan with some kitchen roll and use again

Chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters

Tear the thyme to release the flavour

Put the olive oil into a pan and add the onions. Fry until they turn transparent

Add the rest of the paprika, the tomatoes and the thyme

When the tomato skins are beginning to separate from the centers, add the boiled potatoes and stir well. Cook on a medium/low heat until the tomatoes are disintegrating.

Serve immediately.

I saw another recipe for patatas bravas and it was literally terrible. It involved so much salt (over a tablespoon for 2 portions of food) I think it would have made anyone very sick, and it also called for cups of olive oil! It claimed it was an authentic recipe but I think the “Chef” got it from a before-scene on Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares.

After reading that recipe, I knew I had to invent my own potato recipe and share it with you because there aren’t enough good patatas bravas recipes (and other interesting potato recipes) around.

Easy Spanish tapas style olives and cashew nuts (vegan)

With the weather so warm, little tapas dishes are perfect for picking at when you don’t have an appetite for a big, heavy meal. It got to 33.5 here this afternoon, so since this isn’t an air-conditioned country, we’ve been eating big salads for lunch and trying to graze through the evening.

This olive and cashew nut recipe is peanut free as my child has a peanut allergy. It only uses three ingredients and is SO easy to make! It’s a great addition to a dinner party or just a nice snack for summertime comfort food. If you prep this alongside your main meal it can share the oven heat so it’s more environmentally friendly. No oven? Microwave for 30 seconds instead (although this will result in softer nuts)!

Ingredients (serves 1-2 as a snack depending how hungry you are):

1/2 jar of olives (I use garlic stuffed olives as these are my favourite)

1/2 cup cashew nuts

1/2 tsp paprika

Mix everything up in a bowl then pop in the oven for 5 mins until nuts are slightly golden.

Serve with other Mediterranean favourites such as patatas bravas, pasta aglio olio, spanish chicken (or tofu) or a big old Greek gyros.

Installing a high raised bed: Garden update

I’ve decided to put in a high raised bed on one side of the back garden. We are still working on the drainage problem and I will write a lengthy article about this once it’s all sorted. Part of my waterlogged clay drainage plan is to build a high raised bed (30cm tall by 2m wide by 1m deep) which can accommodate a whole load of the displaced soil from other areas of the garden (it should take about 0.6 metric tons of soil, if you put those measurements into a calculator).

This came about because we have about 3 tons of soil that’s been displaced from digging 50 metres of drainage trenches around the garden. The soil type we have is heavy clay soil, and although we have a south-facing garden, the fence at the bottom is 4 metres high so that part of the garden is in shade for most of the morning, and even in this heat (I measured a 45 degree ground temperature two days ago) the clay soil just can’t dry out because behind the 4 metre high fence is a huge garden whose ground level is 2m above our ground level.

This means all the water from their garden comes to ours. Their garden is the lowest on their street (the street goes uphill from there) so we’re getting water from about 20 houses percolating into our back lawn.

It’s squelchy.

Even with the drainage ditches (which have created a beautiful stream water feature in our garden), it’s too waterlogged to grow anything useful or interesting. And I can’t have a pond and a water garden because I have a toddler (and will soon have 2 under 2) who can drown in an inch of water.

So instead I’m building up. The positive about clay is, it’s fantastic for holding nutrients in the soil for plants. It’s just the drainage that’s an issue. So I’m making adjustments to the soil (more on that later) to make it drain better.

The plan is to grow onions over winter in this raised bed, or to plant green manure (to fertilise it naturally), and dig that in, ready for squash or pumpkin planting next year.

Being quite pregnant, a very raised bed is great because it means less bending over to work with my plants. I used offcuts of recycled wood and built each side separately (long sides are 2 metres by 30cm, short sides are 1m by 30cm). Once each side has been made, you can nail them together using square chunks of wood in each corner to give them stability and strength.

First of all, I prepared the site by laying down some thick (but not waterproof) weed control fabric (aka weed proof membrane) to kill the grass and weeds that were already here. The membrane stops the sunlight getting to the grass and it dies because it can’t photosynthesize.

There was a lot of moss in this area and weed control fabric isn’t much use for that. However, iron sulphate works well for moss. Usually, iron sulphate is used to acidify soil (to make so-called ericaceous soil, suitable for erica, heather, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, citrus plants and other acid-needing plants). Since moss thrives in waterlogged alkaline conditions (especially in shady areas), acidifying the soil can help with this.

My problem with this method was, when the soil is this waterlogged, all that will happen is the water will dilute the iron sulphate until it’s not very effective (any acid or alk. We would need to drain the area before using that remedy on the moss. Instead, I dug over the whole area after removing the weed control fabric so the moss was dug into the soil. It needs light (even a little bit) and oxygen to survive so this was another effective way of getting rid of it.

The wood needs to be thick enough to hold a ton of soil and remember, that soil will be wet, which will shorten the life of the wood if it’s untreated. However, untreated wood is better for your plants because the chemicals from treatments can leach into the soil. With a large bed this is less of an issue.

The structure was easy to make and here’s instructions, if you want to make one, too.

Instructions for making a high raised bed:

You will need:

6 pieces of wood (length 2m, width 2cm, height 10cm)

6 pieces of wood (length 1m, width 2cm, height 10cm)

4 square corner posts (length/width 5-ish cm, height 30cm)

12 screws or nails

Method:

Step 1: Attach 3 pieces of 2 metre wood to 2 of the square corner posts, using one corner post at each end of the wood. Repeat this step with the other 3 pieces of 2 metre wood and the other two corner posts. These are the two long sides of the bed.

Step 2: Attach 3 pieces of 1 metre wood to one square posts at the end of each long side. These will make the short sides of the bed. Repeat with the final 3 pieces of 1 metre wood. See diagram above (the green lines are the square posts and the grey dots are nails or screws).

Step 3: Put your bed where you want it. That’s it!

Once the whole structure was complete, I sited it in the ground. I left a 6-inch (15cm) gap between the end of the bed and the fence, to protect the fence and to ensure better drainage from the higher garden behind ours (I don’t want their garden draining into my onion bed haha).

Because I used recycled wood, one of the long sides has an extra piece of wood nailed on the inside that doesn’t appear on the plans.

Next, I filled it with soil. This soil was all extra stuff from digging drainage trenches all around the garden, so if we didn’t find a use for it, we would have to figure out how to dispose of it, which seemed weird, because it’s soil.

The soil needed to be adjusted to it useful for growing plants, which involved adding sand and manure. The sand will improve drainage and the manure will increase the nutrients available for plants. You can’t use just any old sand, however, and there are several ways of adjusting soil.

You also need to take care not to use the soil too soon after you’ve made adjustments to it, because the repaired soil needs time for its structure to change after you’ve worked on it. I’ll go into detail on how to adjust your soil in another article.

I removed the turf all around the bed, too, and replaced this with gravel for better drainage and access to the bed. Clay soil suffers badly from compaction when it’s waterlogged, and walking on it will literally damage the peds (the individual cells of soil) by making them platy, so they can’t absorb water, which makes the waterlogging worse.

Compacted soil also makes it hard to grow anything. You can see this out and about if you’ve ever walked past a farm gate where cows have stood around, compacting the soil with their hooves. In summer, when that soil dries out, there will usually be a bare patch around the gate where things don’t grow so well. Compacted soil can produce dangerous conditions around farm animals (especially cows) as their feet can get stuck in it and then they might get injured.

In a garden, the main issue with compaction around walkways (where you’re not growing your flowers or vegetable crops anyway) is that it looks really unsightly. It also usually produces a very sticky mud that attaches itself to your shoes and refuses to let go, resulting in lots of scrubbing to get them clean!

Overall, then, soil compaction is not great for a number of reasons, and it’s best to avoid it wherever possible.

Switching the turf for gravel around this bed should also reduce the chance of excessive grass/weed growth around the edge of the bed, which has been a problem with my much smaller (120cm by 120cm by 15cm high) bed which is currently housing most of my crop for this year.

Also, the gravel looks pretty and will mean I can work on the bed without having to wear wellies to keep my feet dry!

So there you have it, that’s how we changed this dark, squelchy corner of the garden into a large high raised vegetable bed.

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Crackle

What crackles? How does it feel to touch something as it makes that noise? What is the texture of a thing that crackles? Write 100 words about crackle!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompts challenge: Hair

Okay, a light topic after last week’s! Write 100 words about hair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt challenge: Power

Okay, it’s another big concept this week. What will you come up with? I’m looking forward to finding out!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Spaghetti with crab and yellow pepper recipe

Two days ago, I bought some cut-price crab that was near its use-by date. I’ve never had crab before so I wasn’t sure what to do with it or what it tasted like. I opened the packet and immediately the strong seafood smell hit my nose. It reminded me of salmon, a little. Or very strong lobster.

I looked online for crab recipes but I didn’t have any of the ingredients for the ones I found. Also, a lot of them required white wine and I’m non-alcoholic at the moment due to being pregnant so I needed an alcohol-free no-wine crab recipe.

I decided to cook it with spaghetti, but you could use linguine if you wanted to be more traditional. Or any pasta you have in your house. If you prefer a sweeter pepper, red pepper or orange pepper would also work (bell peppers, not capiscums).

Even once it’s cooked, the strong crab flavor is very apparent, and this recipe is perfect for seafood lovers looking to mix it up when it comes to their crab.

This was quite a hearty dish that I think would be very warming on a cool autumn day when the temperature starts to drop and the evenings are drawing in.

So here’s my spaghetti with crab and yellow pepper recipe. Serves two very big bowls!

Ingredients:

150g spaghetti

120g crab meat

1 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp diluted tomato puree (diluted 1:1 with water) Substitute with undiluted passata or plain tomato pasta sauce if that’s what you have.

1 tsp garlic

Pinch chilli flakes

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

A chopped yellow bell pepper

A sprinkle of basil

Method:

  1. Cook the spaghetti as you usually would. Should take 10-14 minutes depending on the cooker and pan. Fresh spaghetti takes more like 3 minutes.
  2. Remove the centre stalk and seeds of the yellow bell pepper (I do this by drawing a circle around the top with a knife then pulling on the green stalk). Chop bell pepper into roughly 1/2 inch squares (or leave bigger if you prefer).
  3. Put the olive oil into a pan and start heating it.
  4. Add the bell pepper and saute for 2-3 minutes then turn heat down to a simmer.
  5. Add the lemon juice and stir in.
  6. Add garlic, chilli flakes and basil. Mix well in pan.
  7. Add the crab meat. This shouldn’t be cooked for too long or it will become stringy.
  8. Add the tomato puree, mix thoroughly.
  9. Drain the spaghetti then mix it into the pan with the sauce. Serve.

To make this meal extra-special, you could make a garlic baguette to accompany it. For best results, don’t reheat the crab (it’s quite delicate), so scale down your recipe for the number of people you’re feeding. If you don’t have a big appetite, you could probably get 3 servings out of this (or 4 if you wanted 2 adult portions and 2 child-sized ones).

Veganize this meal by substituting silken tofu for crab and adding a handful of shredded seaweed and a tiny splash of soya sauce to keep the sea taste.

5 ways to attract pollinators to your garden

Bees have been in decline for about the past 15 years. I believe it was 2006 when David Tennant uttered the immortal line on Doctor Who: “Why are the bees disappearing?”

It was a question they never answered. Because no sonic screwdriver, no TARDIS, no noisy battle with the Daleks could fix the problem. The bees ARE disappearing.

And here’s why: Human interference. For centuries, we have systematically gone on a campaign of building, and humanity’s collective footprint has become far greater than our ancestors could ever have imagined.

There are plenty of green spaces outdoors, but they’re the wrong kind of spaces for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. We have acres and acres of monotone green grass verges, green roundabouts, green front gardens which we mow weekly to keep it to a socially-acceptable height. We’re more worried about offending the neighbours than preserving the insects who literally keep us alive.

Without pollinators, the plants will stop growing. They will die out. Then we will die out. Even meat-eaters.

So making your garden a haven for pollinators is quite important. Here’s five tried-and-tested ways to do it (even in small gardens).

  1. Plant a buddleia (aka buddleja): This shrub is also known as the butterfly bush for a reason! In full bloom, the buddleia’s fluffy-looking flowers attract dozens of butterflies and bees.
  2. Mow your lawn less often: Switch to a two-week schedule instead of weekly in the fast-growing summer months. This encourages things like clover, daisies and buttercups to grow in your grass, all of which will attract bees (and look amazing).
  3. Put up a bee hotel: This is a specially designed place a bit like a birdhouse but especially for bees. In the circular holes in the wooden structure, solitary bees can hang out. You can buy a bee hotel online.
  4. Put up a butterfly hotel: Like a bee hotel, except this one has long, thin entrances designed for butterflies (and to keep out things that might harm them).
  5. Dedicate a section of your garden as a wildflower area. You can either do this by not mowing your lawn in certain areas or by scattering wildflower seeds in a dedicated flower bed or container. Packets of wildflower seeds are perfect for cultivated land like lawns and gardens. Do be careful of scattering wildflower seeds in woodlands or other public spaces, however, as they can force out native species of flowers.

So there you have it, five ways you can attract pollinators into your garden and make your lawn a friendly space for these vital species! Have you done any of these? Let me know in the comments!

Avoiding tomato blight organically in Ireland

Friday morning, my husband’s weather app came up with something that we both found confusing.

“There’s a blight warning for Ireland!” he told me, thinking it was bizarre.

I raised an eyebrow because I didn’t know this was still a thing. For me, potato blight is the stuff of history books and represents a very painful chapter in Irish history. Also, I’m not currently growing potatoes. And I didn’t know blight affected anything else. Surely, I thought, in this day and age, there’s a cure for it.

So I went to Met Eireann, the Irish Meterological Office, and checked what they said.

I thought this only affected potatoes so I wondered if I should plant mine out asap or leave them. See, in the past when I have a bag of shop-bought potatoes and they have started to sprout, I planted them in the ground and got a big crop of delicious new potatoes. Article here. I currently have a bag of sprouting potatoes in our veg drawer, and this week would be the perfect time to plant them, given that the end of June is really the last time you can plant anything in our climate if you want it to crop before winter.

I looked up how to avoid potato blight and found out it’s much worse than that. It also affects tomatoes. The two plants don’t just sound the same when Gene Kelly sings about them in Shall We Dance, they also are very closely related. So close, they get the same disease.

Even having to think about dealing with this feels like trying to deal with the plant equivalent of the Black Death, but I’ve done some research and here’s what I’ve found out.

There are two types of blight. Early blight, which affects North America earlier in the planting season, and late blight, which affects Ireland and southwest Britain. Remedies for early blight won’t work for late blight, because the diseases are two different species.

Once late blight takes hold, it cannot be cured. The first sign is the leaves are damaged, then your crops look… ill.

Farmers can spray their crops’ leaves aggressively with fungicides to keep the blight away. None of these seem to be available for homesteaders, smallholders or gardeners. I’m currently five months pregnant and so I don’t really want pesticides or other chemicals like that anywhere near me. I don’t even use weed killer.

Luckily, there are some steps you can take to prevent blight affecting your organic tomatoes without using any chemicals. It’s spread when wind carries spores during humid conditions followed immediately by rain. The goals are to keep the leaves off the soil and as dry as possible to protect the plants.

First, stake all your tomatoes up off the soil. I’m growing tumbling Tom variety, which tends towards the ground, but I’ve found it’s not too hard to anchor them to a bamboo pole and get them to grow upwards.

Second, remove any leaves that grow close to the soil. Tomatoes have more leaves than they need, especially the lower ones where the plants don’t flower or produce fruit, so this pruning will not damage the plant but could save it.

If you have a greenhouse or shed, move your containerized tomatoes into it while conditions are good for the spread of blight. Consider growing your tomatoes in your greenhouse instead of your garden as this is the best way to keep them safe. You can also grow them in a polytunnel but I’m assuming if you had one, they’d already be under it.

If you don’t have a greenhouse, or your plants can’t be easily moved, get some polythene sheeting and make a DIY polytunnel to place over your tomato crops. Make supports for it from bamboo poles laid diagonally, so they meet at the top where you can tie them together (like an old-fashioned tent). Use a pair of four-foot bamboo poles roughly every 2-3 feet and lay the polythene over it. You can anchor the polythene with big stones or with tent pegs, if you have any.

If you can’t get hold of polythene sheeting or don’t want to use it, get a parasol or large umbrella (or a gazebo if you have one) and cover your tomatoes with it. It won’t be as effective as the other protective measures because the spores will still be in the air and an open-sided raincover won’t keep them out, but it will be better than nothing. The rain carries the fungus. Keeping the rain off the leaves will help protect the plants. Be aware of wind conditions, however, because high winds could damage or blow away a parasol, umbrella or gazebo.

If you’re really stuck, cover your plants with bin bags for the duration of any rain during the weather warning and be sure to take them back off before too long so the plants get enough sunshine. White bags would be better as they will let more light through and not overheat the plants (black bags will conduct heat more whereas white reflects heat). Given that I don’t have any of the above, this is what I’m going to end up doing. Be careful not to tie the bags too tightly around the stems in case it snaps the stems. Tomatoes at this time of year shouldn’t be as delicate as, say, courgettes but they don’t exactly have tree trunks, either.

When watering, water the soil, not the leaves. Take the sprinkler attachment off your hose or watering can and use a gentle flow of water, trying not to splash the plant at all. Again, the goal is to keep the leaves as dry as possible.

Our warning says blight will be hitting Munster, Connaught and Leinster later today or tomorrow, but won’t reach Ulster until Sunday or Monday, so I have some time to try and prevent my plants getting blighted. Honestly, if I’d known this was a potential issue I would have bought a variety of tomatoes that was blight-resistant or I would have kept them indoors instead of planting them out.

Of course, this leaves the issue of what on Earth to do with this bag of sprouted potatoes. Will they grow healthy or will they get blighted if I try to grow them now? I haven’t really got a place to plant them which is the only thing that has been stopping me. I know it’s a bit late in the year to grow them, anyway, and lots of people’s potatoes are cropping already; maybe this particular batch will just have to go on the compost instead of in the ground.