Monthly Archives: November 2019

Window Box Gardening

This year has seen a great deal of change, as I moved into my own place, which gave me both more and less space to grow my herbs and vegetables. I’m now in a first floor flat with no actual garden so instead of my small container garden I now have a collection of window boxes to work with, along with some ikea hanging baskets in my kitchen.

I wasn’t sure if my herbs would survive their summary removal from a container on the patio into a window box, so I gave them a few weeks sitting in my living room to settle before I put them back outside again. Apparently they liked my living room a bit too much as within a month of being outside my kitchen window they were universally looking like the saddest herbs on the planet.

It’s not been a good year for herbs in general chez moi. All the herbs I’d bought for my kitchen planters have died a death. In fact the only thing I’ve planted in my hanging kitchen planter that hasn’t keeled over is an Aloe Vera plant. Which nearly keeled over in the other direction as I’ve had to turn the planter round so that its leaning toward the sunshine doesn’t tip the whole thing out on the floor!

One thing that has been an unmitigated success is my bay tree. Having been a small but resilient little container tree on the patio for the last couple of years, when I moved somewhere without a garden I planned to return it to my parents care. (Their own Bay Tree that mine is an offshoot from, had died a death the previous year.) It was a shame, my friend M noted while helping me move, it looked good in my living room. After some consultation with green-fingered friends we concluded that it should be fine as long as it got plenty of light, so I found it a sunny spot, watered it regularly and hoped for the best. Reader, it thrived. It’s got at least a foot taller, I had to re-pot it into a bigger tub and it’s never looked healthier.

This summer I tried out window box gardening for the first time. Between spring arriving late and being generally busy with the move I didn’t actually get any seeds in the soil until June. I planted a row each of carrots and spring onions in one box and a row each of radishes and pak choi in the other. I didn’t have high hopes for them but I reckoned it as better to try then just look sadly at those empty window boxes all summer. Yet to my surprise, the sunshine and showers that marked June meant that my radishes and pak choi burst into enthusiastic life to the extent of needing thinned out. My carrots looked pathetic and my spring onions never broke the surface – I suspect bird interference – but I began to have hopes about salad.

However, come July we had a heat-wave, and I returned from a week away for work to find that my pak choi and radishes had both shot beyond rescue, so all I got from that box were some rather pretty yellow and pink-purple flowers. After last year’s spinach disappointment, I suspect salad leaves are not going to be my thing.

However, to my surprise, the carrots rallied. I’d decided to grow a miniature variety and miniature they certainly were. But I did at least get enough carrots to do something with. I was able to get enough to eat boiled with dinner one night, and during my sushi experiments baby carrots proved to be the perfect size to quarter and use as batons. Also they may have been tiny, but they packed a disproportionate punch of taste. I’ve never eaten carrots with such flavour so despite their unimpressive showing, I’ll definitely be giving them a second try next year.

I have had one last success in my window box gardening. I noticed the other day that my chive plant – previously thought dead – was showing some fresh green shoots among the dead husks. So I’ve carefully cleared away the dead stems and other debris and it looks that I might yet have a chive plant – and who knows I’ve seen that mint plant come back from worse in previous years…

Categories: growing my own, nablopomo, new skills | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Noodle Adventures

Honestly, if you’d told me at the start of last year, that doing the 52 ingredients challenge would leave me with strong opinions about noodles, I would have laughed at you. But then noodles turned out to be a really easy food type to try lots of different varieties of throughout the challenge. I eat a fairly large amount of noodles in general life, so it was easy enough to just grab a different variety each time I needed more noodles.

Actually, at this point I should clarify that when I talk about noodles, I mean it in the UK sense, the kind of things you serve with stir-fry and so many varieties of East Asian food. Despite their structural similarities, I’m not talking about pasta.

Anyway, prior to doing this challenge I mostly ate two kinds of noodles, egg noodles and Udon noodles. Actually to be entirely honest, mostly I ate either those ramen noodle packets adulterated with a bunch of vegetables and either tofu or quorn, or I stuck those ‘straight-to-wok’ Udon noodle packets into my stir-fry. Either way I was pretty set in my noodle eating ways, and the extent of my noodle opinions was that I didn’t like vermicelli rice noodles. (Soggy and flavourless, they really need something as strongly flavoured as Singapore noodles to give them any taste.) So really my noodle opinions boiled down to preferring thick noodles over thin noodles.

But having tried a whole variety of noodles over the course of this challenge I now have noodle opinions. And what else do you do when you’ve got a food blog and some food opinions that few people you know in real life will care about? Well, naturally you blog about it!

Soba Noodles

I wrote about these when I tried them last summer. Substantial enough that they don’t fall apart when you’re making ramen, and as buckwheat noodles I find that they’re as wheat-y a noodle as I’m ever likely to want. Despite being fairly skinny noodles they retain decent structural integrity making them ideal for making noodles soups, so they’ve become my go-to noodles for when I want to make Ramen dishes from scratch rather than from a packet. My new favourite every day noodles.

Whole-wheat noodles

These are essentially a whole wheat version of the kind of widely available egg noodles that are the default in most UK supermarkets – coming in neat little portion-sized nests. After the success of my adventures with buckwheat noodles with Soba, I thought these would be an easier to portion version with a similar taste. I was wrong. I don’t actively dislike them, but they are fundamentally, disappointing noodles. I was particularly disappointed because I really enjoy whole-wheat pasta so I had high hopes, but they were dashed. My strongest feeling when putting out the empty packet was one of relief.

Taiwanese Sliced Noodles

These are great. After my adventures with whole-wheat noodles I had to be careful not to overcook them, but even then they were comparatively a delight. The ones I had came in ‘nests’ though not the small neat burls of egg noodles I’m used to, instead taking the form of large ungainly slices. They’re awkward shapes that are hard to store and always give me more noodles than I could sensibly require, but they are most definitely worth it. They have that comforting gluten-y texture (and mouth-feel) that I love about Udon noodles, along with their ribbon shape giving the most unadventurous stir fry a pleasingly different aspect. Definitely the kind of noodles that I could happily eat a bowl of with just some sauce.

Udon Noodles

I’d never previously cooked Udon noodles from scratch. They’re my noodle of choice when I go out for Japanese food and as aforementioned I’m partial to their ‘straight-to-wok’ incarnation, despite their slightly slippery texture. Given my longstanding fondness for them, I figured I should actually have a bash at cooking them myself in the more traditional fashion. I must confess myself a little disappointed in dried Udon noodles, while they were definitely chunkier than either soba or standard egg noodles, they never quite plumped up to the thickness I’m accustomed to from Udon noodles. I had to cook them for at least twice the length of time suggested by the packet as prior to that they hadn’t plumped up at all. I wondered if perhaps I’d just bought a sub-par brand – they were after all Tesco Udon noodles – but the internet tells me that dried Udon are widely considered to be sub-par as a rule. They weren’t terrible noodles, they just weren’t what I was after, so I think I’ll be sticking with the straight-to-wok or ‘for soup’ varieties as they do a much better job of impersonating the kind of noodles I’d be led to expect from the fresh variety.

Categories: 52 Ingredients, challenges, nablopomo | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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