The sights and sounds of summer . . .
To start, why not put some sounds in your ears while you read over this post? Below is a compilation of various recordings I made (on my camera, so not brilliant quality) during June. Originally, I intended to do a recording every day for 30 Days Wild, but didn't manage it. Speaking of 30 Days Wild, it was fantastic to get my pack from the Wildlife Trusts, featuring cards with pictures that I drew! It was very exciting to have my art going out to thousands of people. I talked about the process of creating the cards here.
So, back to our activites in June. We paid a visit to London for a family wedding at the start of the month and enjoyed some green spaces in the city.
The wedding cakes were a sight to behold. All the fruit and flowers inspired me to try something I'd been meaning to get around to for the last few years: cooking with elderflowers. I foraged a couple of flower heads and made them into pikelets (sweet little pancakes), which worked quite nicely.
It's hard to fit in outdoors time around a full time job with a 1-2 hour commute each way, so we decided to start a little tradition of going on a walk on the way home at least once a week. We chose Arlington Reservoir, because it's a one hour circular walk on an easy trail, with a variety of stuff to look at: the water and waterbirds, a bit of woodland, views of the South Downs, animals, buildings, fields. It was satisfying to watch the evolution of the micro-ecosystem that is the reservoir wall over the course of the summer and autumn, until it got too dark to walk any more.
There was a gorgeous Chicken of the Woods fungus growing on Battle High Street, of all places. I didn't want to take it, as it looked so lovely and colourful. Somebody else didn't have any such qualms - it had been cut down when we next went past, a couple of days after I took this photo. (I later heard it was a friend of a neighbour, who presented it to a family member for their birthday!)
We had an amazing microadventure on the South Downs with probably the most beautiful scenery I saw this year. The HRRA walk this month was also on the South Downs, which meant even more fabulous views!
Small tortoiseshell butterflies, which have suffered a population decline, especially in the south of the UK.
And at the end of the month we went Champing for the first time. Despite quite a grey and drizzly month overall, we did manage to make the most of it.
We spent the second week of our Australian holiday in Melbourne. We had a fantastic time, meeting up with loads of friends and eating loads of food. It would be impossible to write about everything we did and everyone we saw, so instead I'm sharing some photos and a few snippets of writing. Once again, I hope they give you a bit of a feel for the place.
Melbourne is built on the traditional country of the Wurundjeri people (Woiwurrung language group), Bunurong people (Boonwurrung language group) and Wathaurong people (Wathaurung language group) who along with the Taungurong people (Daungwurrung language group) and Dja Dja Wurrung people (Dja Dja Wrung language group) form the Kulin Nation. Watch a welcome to Wurrundjeri country and learn more about Indigenous histories of the area here.
We cross the Maribyrnong River on our first morning in Australia, then again as soon as we return to Melbourne after a week in East Gippsland. It’s wider than I remember, the surface laid out silvery under clear autumn skies, looping beneath concrete bridges, here presided over by the golden presence of Heavenly Queen (Mazu), there sidling along past cranes and shipping containers to join the Yarra just before Westgate Bridge.
It draws us in. We walk with our friends through Fairbairn Park and cross the river to Pipemakers Park. We pass a few afternoon dog walkers on the banks and joggers huffing along the paths. Half a dozen commuter cyclists whizz by, squinting into the sun. But the river itself is empty - or rather, it belongs entirely to the pied cormorants, wood ducks, mallards and little egrets. It strikes me as odd that nobody is on the water, but not because I’ve ever seen many people on the Maribyrnong. It’s just that the familiar has become unfamiliar. I think of how every river or canal in our south-east corner of England seems to come with a floating jumble of boats - narrowboats and barges with people living on board year round, motorboats hauled up on the banks waiting for their few weeks’ use in the summer holidays, sculling teams skimming across the early morning, weekend kayakers and canoeing school groups in raincoats and oversized life jackets, picnickers clunking their wooden rowboats in awkward circles. I wonder if there are restrictions, bylaws that keep people off the Maribyrnong, but we find a launching place down on the bank. When or if we come back to live in Melbourne, I’m going to get a pack raft and go exploring.
A couple of days later, we stop off on the way to Footscray to follow a pathway between the Maribyrnong and Edgewater Lake. The sky is flawless blue, the water still. Swallows dart above the rushes, crested pigeons and wood ducks potter around the grass, gulls and cormorants survey the park from posts and footbridge railings. The wetlands are overlooked by suburbia and a shiny new residential development, where a swanky boats rest empty in a small marina. It’s hardly secluded, yet only a handful of people pass us as we dawdle along. It feels like walking into a secret.
A few years ago, the height restrictions in the local planning regulations changed and low-rise apartment blocks have sprung up in almost every street. But it seems the council is keen to preserve something of the historic character of the streetscape, so many of the new blocks bubble out the back of old single-front timber clad houses, like geometric steel aliens trying and failing to fit themselves into human bodies, wearing human faces without quite getting it right.
The changes are disconcerting. This doesn't feel like the suburb I moved to when I first came to Melbourne, the homeliness has been stripped away. Driving down Union Street and Brunswick Road, some intersections are unrecognisable. The sky is hemmed in by steel, coloured concrete and glass. I mourn all the back yard lemon trees and hills hoists and despise the creeping inner-city-ness of it all. It’s all changed so quickly, I think. It’s all different. (But it’s not. There’s always been a mishmash of architecture here and I’ve always loved it. And later, when I take the streets at walking pace I start to enjoy the changes, the way the old houses with their lace-trimmed verandahs act as a familiar, friendly entrée to a menu of contemporary apartments.)
To everything there is a season
I've never spent time in Melbourne without living in Melbourne - not since I moved here aged 18. (Does it feel like home?) It’s strange to be a guest, to be staying in our friends’ house, to be travelling by car, to be meeting people almost every day for breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and/or dinner. We’re very busy. (Does it feel like a holiday?) I feel out of time, plucked from the damp chilliness of early spring in East Sussex into the cooling but still-warm early autumn in Melbourne. The rain falls with more determination here, the fruit is ripe on the trees overhanging the laneways, people talk about rugging up, they breathe out with relief that summer has finally finished, but it’s still 18, 20, 23 degrees every day. (Do you want to stay?) I am split between places, longing for all my homes even when I’m in them. There are bellbirds on Merri Creek, people are catching Australian salmon on drop lines off Altona Pier, there are sunsets over Brunswick that flow warm in my throat, there is the mournful call of Australian ravens - ah, ah, aaahhhrw. The grass is greener than usual for the tail end of summer. Soon the creeks will be full. We will not be here to see it. In England, the long drawn out pause of early spring is about to break, the blackthorn will burst into white blossom, the hawthorn will unfold green, the blackcaps and swallows will arrive and the season will come tumbling too quickly to hold. I am almost superstitiously worried that we’ll miss it. (Will you come back to live?)
An incomplete list of things that make my heart skip with gladness to be in Melbourne: the street art in Footscray; friends; Ceres; the street smells that never include the same whiff of sewer as European cities; potato cakes of varying quality; doughnuts at the Vic Market; wide streets with parking spaces that don’t require cars to mount the pavement; cars all parked in the same direction; people only half-ironically Australianising place names (Brunnie, Knifepoint, Feddo, Flemmo, The Vale, the Oppie, Melbs, Chaddie, Woollies); the smell of eucalyptus and ti-tree; the sign advertising land for development over which someone has painted NO NO NO NO NO NO; the ears of the Daimaru building (yeah, I still think of it as that); anti-fashion fashion; cheap pizza, expensive brunch; people complaining about the trains; people saying “soy milk” instead of “soya milk”; the sound of magpies, kookaburras, currawongs, wattlebirds, parrots, bell miners - and starlings, swallows, feral pigeons; ridiculous postmodern-pastiche architecture; graffiti; verandahs; Victoria - Garden State, Victoria - On The Move, Victoria The Place To Be - and new since we left, Vic - Stay Alert Stay Alive and Victoria - The Education State; good coffee that’s not too hot to drink; phone numbers that are the right length; the lack of litter (OK, there’s some, but the roadsides are so much cleaner than SE England); the spot on the Merri Creek where, when the water is low, you can jump across the stepping stones; seeing souvlaki and dim sims advertised in chip shops; bluestone; sandstone; pedestrian crossings that go pyeeeeeew-dikka-dikka-dikka-dikka; Bonsoy; overhearing someone on the phone saying “under the clocks”; a ring tailed possum on Barkly Street; Franco Cozzo; the clean glare of the sun and how high it is in the sky; wait staff taking a coffee order ten minutes before they take a food order; all the food - so much food; tattoos; the sound of (old) trams rumbling down the street; the grid; hook turns.
Thank you to Esther, Gabe and Martin for hosting us and to everyone who met up with us in Melbourne for a chat (and food, of course!): Esther, Julia, Kate, Toby, Sara-Jane, Essie, Arty, David, Jane, Mimo, Molly, Nathan, Oli, Mel, Stephanie, Danni, Emma, Emily, Moya, Nika, Steve, Di, Leigh, Ashling, Steph, Kerri, Sam, Anthony, Kate, Una, Rohan, Brooke, Darren, Del, Eliza, TJ, Nathan and Michelle.
I think it’s time for a cuppa. I’ve addressed the two big milk-in-tea questions, I’ve discussed bitter tea and tea bags and now it’s time to talk about caffeine and cosies.
NB: All photos in this post are used free of charge under Creative Commons licensing. Click an image to be taken to the source and to find out about the specific license.
Do you have a pressing question about tea? Let me know and I shall endeavour to answer it. Do you use a tea cosy? Let us know if you have a preference - quilted, knitted, felted - and please share your cosy tips!
A simple but delicious spinach dish that can be eaten plain with rice or with added paneer, tofu or cream.
The first time I made saag paneer, I tried to do it from scratch. The home-made paneer (cheese) was a bit of a disaster because it melted into goo when I fried it, but I was still hooked. The following dish forms a great base for saag paneer or saag tofu, but it’s also delicious served by itself - we call it “saag pa-nearly”. It’s one of my favourite comfort foods: tasty, nutritious and easy to make.
This recipe first appeared in Hastings Independent, Issue 23, 6 February 2015, p8.
Is there anything cosier than sitting by a log fire, maybe after a brisk winter walk, sipping a mug of piping hot mulled wine? Possibly. Nevertheless, it is one of my favourite things about winter in the UK!
You can get mulled wine pre-mixed in a bottle or you can get sachets/bags of spice to add to your own wine, but making it from scratch is easy. For a non-alcoholic tipple, use fruit juice like orange, apple or grape instead of wine. The following recipe produces an exceptionally fiery brew, so adjust according to your tastes.
Make some magic
I discovered while researching different mulled wine recipes that there is a large contingent of people who don't like mulled wine at all. Are you one of them? Explain yourself!
This recipe was first published as "Fiery mulled wine" in Hastings Independent, Issue 21, 19 December 2014, p9.
It's been a while since my first blog post about tea, so it's high time to re-visit the topic. I'd love to hear your tea-related questions in the comments - I'll do my best to answer them there or in a future post. But for now, make yourself a brew and take a few minutes to relax . . .
Flavour is not only in the mouth, but in the mind. A beautiful glass can enhance the tea-drinking experience. ("A Japanese tea" by Maaco.) *
Why is my tea bitter?
Yuck! There are three main possibilities that your tea tastes too bitter: you used too much tea, your water was too hot, or you brewed it for too long. It could also be that your tea is a cheap teabag of green tea dust, but that can often be mitigated by being careful about the other three factors. My suggestion, if following the packet instructions is producing a bitter brew, is to experiment with the following:
What are your opinions on teabags?
* All photos licenced for use under Creative Commons, click through to find original images on Flickr.
** Then there are novelty teabags that look like goldfish - which, yes, OK, fine, I admit they're cute.
Do you have a question about tea? A correction or further advice for your fellow readers? Leave a comment!
1066 Cake Stand is a well-known fixture of the vegan scene in Hastings, with co-owners Shelley Feldman and Kevin Young operating a small shop-front on Queens Road and regularly offering cake to festival-going crowds in the area.
Recently, the pair launched a national cake delivery service – taking their social enterprise to a whole new tier. I caught up with Shelley last month to learn more about Cake Club.
First of all, while I’ve never met a person who wouldn’t want cake delivered to their doorstep, how did you come up with the idea of a cake delivery service?
We have a customer who regularly comes up with schemes and things for us to make, do and sell. They are usually very silly things. This time we thought, “Actually, this is a really good idea!” so we went for it. We launched our Cake Club in August at the London Vegan Festival, and the first box went out on the 12th of September.
And how does it work?
It is just like a veggie box delivery, but for cake! Subscription boxes are all the rage at the moment – think Graze. People hop on our website to buy a trial month or subscribe for 6, 9 or 12 months. The first month was mostly trial boxes, but people are beginning to subscribe now. It costs £12 a month, including delivery to mainland UK. Customers can tell us their preferences – like if they hate fruit cake, have allergies, or want a gluten free cake – but each month’s cake is a surprise. We send four good sized portions each month… what we call the “Hastings Slice”.
You said it’s a surprise, but do you have any hints about what kinds of cakes subscribers can expect?
Well, we ultimately choose the cake but subscribers are encouraged to issue “Cake Challenges”, where they suggest a style or flavour of cake for us to make. If we accept a Cake Challenge we will give the challenger that month’s box for free. It is too early to have had any challenges through Cake Club yet, but challenges via our shop have included gluten free Eccles cakes, vegan lemon meringue pie and Pimms cake.
Where’s the furthest you’ve sent a cake? And has anyone subscribed who could’ve just walked down to the shop and bought one, because that sounds like something I’d do?
I think Manchester is the furthest our cakes have gone so far. We haven't had any orders we can hand deliver yet, but one customer has threatened to order when she moves from Hastings to St Leonards!
Finally, do you think there’s a need for more vegan food in this area? What’s your favourite vegan thing to do in Hastings?
There is always a need for more vegan food in Hastings as I am a colossal pig and am also vegan. There are loads of businesses who cater really well for us, in part I think because it's so common here. I think, my favourite thing to do on a Sunday is go to Foyles for a nice vegan pie and mash, then to the Jenny or Crown for a pint. There is almost always someone about to chat to, or a nice bit of music to listen to, before taking a little post-pint waddle home again.
If you're a fan of vegan cake you should chat to Shelley on Twitter! This interview first appeared as “Have your cake (delivered) and eat it” in Hastings Independent, Issue 15, 26 September 2014, p8.
In North Norfolk, at the mouth of the Wash, the wind churns the sea into choppy brown peaks and sends clouds scudding across the wide horizon.
At low tide, mudflats and salt marshes stretch endlessly, carved through by meandering waterways, spiked with grey and yellow grasses, lightly but thoroughly trampled by flocks of wildfowl and waders. Inland, fields of wheat, corn and sugar beet stretch across the gentle, shallow swells of a landscape punctuated occasionally by dark stands of trees and the grey flint spires of village churches. Life exists here on a thin strip, like the Earth’s crust, sandwiched between sky and stone.
Having visited Norfolk several times during the colder, off-peak months, I’ve tended to describe it as flat, bleak and full of birds. But this time, after the best summer in years, I was struck by the abundance and diversity of the hedgerows, streams and tidal marshes. As I explored the area, I couldn’t resist making the most of this wild harvest. . .
Foraging for leafy vegetables and herbs
Stinging nettles and mallow are familiar friends. We found them growing in great quantities along a footpath snaking between coastal villages and we sautéed a few bunches with mushrooms to make a tasty snack. The wild mint we found alongside the nettles went into fresh mint tea. We later found a stream overrun with watercress, but we were out without a bag or container, so I made do with munching on a few peppery leaves.
Foraging for berries and fruit
Established hedgerows encircled the village we stayed in, offering a variety of fruit. Blackberries are probably one of the most commonly foraged fruits in the UK and we tossed a handful of small but sweet specimens into an apple crumble along with the last cherry plums from a nearby tree.
Intertwined with a couple of sloe bushes, and easily distinguishable in such close proximity, I discovered damsons – the first time I’ve found these small plums in the wild. I made a tiny batch of damson jam to experiment, and it was absolutely amazing – tart and flavoursome. We went back later to pick a few more and made them into jelly with some crabapples collected during a bike ride. This wasn’t quite as lively, but it was still good spread on challah toast in the morning.
The hedges were dripping with droopy bunches of shiny, black berries on bright red stalks. After checking with some knowledgeable friends on Twitter, I identified them as elderberries.
These were completely new to me, so I decided to make something simple to get a feel for the flavour. Alys Fowler in The Thrifty Forager claims elderberries “have a slightly rank taste so it’s always the last jam in our house to get eaten”, but I was not to be dissuaded! I made a tasty (if slightly too sweet) cordial, which was reminiscent of a well-known blackcurrent drink. We drank it with ice out of champagne flutes while sitting in the Norfolk sunshine. . . bliss!
Foraging for samphire
My most exciting find, out on those wide, sticky flats, was patch after patch of marsh samphire. I had never eaten samphire before. I snipped a few bits (not sure if it was legal to harvest it, not wanting to disrupt an ecosystem I was not familiar with) and added it raw to a salad. It was gorgeous – tiny, crunchy pockets of salty sea-flavour bursting in each mouthful.
(N.B. We later went to Titchwell Manor for a delicious evening meal, during which I was presented with an enormous bowl of samphire. It made my foraging efforts look rather paltry in comparison. . . but food is always tastier when you find it and/or grow it yourself!)
Over the course of our holiday, this flat ribbon of North Norfolk became more than a beautifully bleak and bird-filled landscape to me. Through our foraging excursions, I connected with it on a personal scale and felt grounded there in a way I hadn't before.
What wild food is in season where you live? Have you got any foraging stories or questions? I'd love to hear them in the comments or on Twitter.
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