"Gardening makes my heart bloom" -- mum

"The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat." -- Confucius

Monday, 27 September 2010

Malaysian Night at Trafalgar Square

Ok, so Friday was grey, a tad wet and absolutely freezing.   Never mind that.  I read about 'Malaysia Night at Trafalgar Square' in a Time Out newsletter and decided to join a gaggle of diehard foodies to support this event.  Braving arctic conditions (by my calculations, that would be anything below 10˚C),  I arrived to the sounds of Malay traditional music and the heady smells of hawker food.....  

and it looked like the entire expatriate Malaysian (and Singaporean) community had decided to follow their stomachs as well!  A huge festive crowd was already there, tucking into Penang laksa, char koay teow, beef rendang, ayam percik, satay, chendol.....   

Most people sat around the fountains to eat their food but this gentleman here has demonstrated a most elegant way to tuck in standing up.....

What style!
Mmm.....check out the menus!  In my haste to satisfy my taste buds, all thoughts of food photography flew out the window.....until the very last dish, rojak. 


Rojak is a salad made from cucumber, jicama, bean sprouts, pineapple, green mango, Malay apple, guava and fried tofu puffs - ingredients will vary.  The dressing, the vital part of this salad,  is dark and viscous and made up of shrimp paste, tamarind paste, sugar, chilli and lime, topped with crushed roasted peanuts and a sprinkling of sesame seeds - salty, sour, sweet and spicy - the flavour is out of this world!
Imagine buying kicap manis or fresh birdseye chilli in the middle of Trafalgar Square!

Maggi chilli sauce for sale here
.....and kicap manis here
Champion carver Weng Kit Ho flew in from Paris to present a stall full of fruit and vegetables.....

Royal stamp of approval
I might add that the entertainment was pretty good too:  traditional music and dance, parade of ethnic costumes, demonstration of the martial art of 'silat'.....

Folk dance

Malay musical instruments

Unfazed by the steadily dropping temperature and spurred on by the tantalising smells of food, the crowd grew and grew.....

The brightly lit National Gallery overlooking the event
Foodies are a very patient lot!
This event was part of a year long campaign by the Malaysian government to introduce the British to Malaysian cuisine (http://www.malaysiakitchen.co.uk/).  All participating food stalls in this event were run by Malaysian restaurants based in the UK.  A jolly good idea well executed!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Mooncake Festival

Lotus seed filling with double salted yolk mooncake
The Mooncake Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Lantern Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.  The date is never the same as it is determined by the September equinox – when daylight and darkness are equal in length.  This year, the festival falls on the 22nd September.  [According to Wikipedia, the equinox occurs on the 23rd September at precisely 03:09 UTC.  UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) replaced GMT as the basis for the main referene time scale in various regions on 1 January 1972.]

This festival is celebrated by many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.  On this day the Chinese pray to the Moon Goddess for protection, family unity and good fortune.  Round mooncakes are eaten as it is symbolic of family unity and closeness.  Today, this custom has become less popular with 'city folks'.  In fact, the Moon Goddess had ceased to exist for some in the late sixties when some astronaut placed his big fat footprints on the moon!
Red bean (adzuki) filling with salted yolk mooncake
My best memories of living in the tropics were of going to my grandparents’ house on festival night where four generations gathered to eat, pray and play (for the adults, some small scale gambling!).  We sat outdoors to watch the moon rise, formed a procession of lanterns, played with sparklers and fireworks, listened to stories and sang.  Vast quantities of mooncakes, pomeloes, sugarcanes, groundnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sarsaparilla, orange squash and beers were consumed.  When the moon had risen high enough, we gathered at the altar to light joss sticks and prayed for the family’s health, wealth and happiness through the year.  This would include asking for good exam grades for the children! Then it was all hands on deck to build a mountain of joss paper to be burnt as offerings.  These were folded paper creations in the shapes of lotus flowers and taels (ancient Chinese gold ingots) that had taken days and weeks to make.  The bonfire was the highlight for me.
Moon rising over the back garden during the September equinox
There are many legends relating to this festival.  The one told to me by my dad and which made the most sense relates to the overthrow of Mongol rule in China.  During the Song dynasty when the Mongols invaded and captured Southern China, the rebel leaders came up with a plan to communicate with the people without raising suspicion.  Cakes shaped like the moon and stuffed with sweet fillings were made.  Inside each cake was a piece of paper with the message: ‘rise against the Tartars on the 15th day of the 8th Moon'. On the night of the rebellion, the full moon lit the way and those who were unable to fight or were injured hid in sugarcane plantations to escape slaughter by the Mongols. The Mongols were eventually overthrown and the Ming dynasty was created.

Happy Mooncake Festival!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Mangetout 'Golden Sweet'

In recent months, I've been thoroughly entertained by this yellow-podded mangetout pea, my first foray into mangetout growing. The peas were a rare heritage variety supplied by the Real Seeds Catalogue.   Fifteen peas were sown in mid-April and fifteen plants transferred to the pea patch in May.  The plants grew very fast, climbing to the top of the 5 foot high netting in no time and would have kept on going if there were something to cling to!
Mauve flowers
I don't know if this is true of all mangetout but this variety does put on quite a show.
Purple flowers
Every single flower dances through hues of light pink, magenta, mauve, purple, blue.....
Blue flowers
... and finally fades away to reveal the loveliest lemon yellow pod.
'Golden Sweet' mangetout
What a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Aussie Green Man

Here in the UK and in other cultures, the mythological Green Man has a face made up of leaves, sometimes with branches or vines sprouting out of its head and/or body.  I discovered this wonderful not so Green Man in the form of an old gum (eucalyptus) tree near a busy street corner in Leederville, Perth, Western Australia.  Can you see his sleeping face?  Small flocks of noisy cockatoos, rosellas and King parrots would take turns to perch on his head where I suspect there's a natural hollow for nesting. 
Aussie Green Man

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Garden security

A helping hand from my mates.....
Border patrol
Keeping an eye out for vermin
Whoops...asleep on the job
Karate cat

Sunday, 12 September 2010


The tumbleberry is a remontant strawberry - it crops heavily all summer and autumn.  I planted these last year, dotting them all over the garden, some in shade and some in full sun, in good compost and in damp, clay soil.  All survived and grew into big clumps.  These do not produce runners.  To 'make' more plants, just break the clumps up, ensuring each bit has roots attached.

Tumbleberry flowers
The most successful clumps were those grown in pots in semi-shade as fruits were allowed to grow to a full size.  Those in the ground were usually half eaten by slugs, snails and creepy crawlies before they had a chance to grow any bigger.  Soil quality did not seem to matter.  Being buried under 6" of snow for a couple of weeks did not matter at all!
The fruit is sweet and very fragrant, described by a friend as tasting like "bubblegum wine".  Definitely worth having in the garden.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A tale of two cherries

I planted a bareroot 'Sunburst' cherry tree in the spring of 2009.  It was grafted on Gisela dwarfing rootstock and expected to reach a height of 3-4 metres when fully grown.  'Sunburst' is a dessert cherry and has large, almost black fruit.  Some say it is sweeter and has a more intense flavour than 'Stella'.

'Y' shaped sapling standing proud in 6" of snow
It pulled through the coldest UK winter in 31 years and burst forth with blossoms this spring.
White cherry blossoms
Spring 2010

I eagerly anticipated a tree laden with juicy black fruit.  The weather got warmer, the petals fluttered to the ground, the fruitlet dropped off...... leaving............

Just two!
Hoping that the birds and squirrels would leave these alone, I watched the colour change.....
mmm...juicy red

getting darker
Ooh yes, I did get to taste the fruit and it was absolutely divine - the rich flavour of the almost black, juicy fruit was worth the wait.  Note to self: water and fertilise regularly = bumper crop next year!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Salad greens

Direct from garden to plate, now that's what I'd call a garden salad!

Greens n flowers

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Pampered 'aubergine'

In late spring, my friend Kyri gave me an aubergine (eggplant) seedling from his greenhouse.  I placed it under a cloche surrounded by other seedlings on the patio.  On cold nights, I worried about it's ability to survive and even considered placing a hot water bottle by it's side.  Anyway, it pulled through and gradually this handsome plant emerged. Anyone recognise it?
Young 'aubergine' with green fruit
By mid-summer, I was ready to give up on my aubergine plant.  It was grown in a luxurious pot and fed copious amounts of potato fertiliser but the fruits were minute..... 
The smallest ripe 'aubergines' I've ever seen..... 
Finally a call came through - the 'aubergine' was actually a weed!

P.S.  Kyri also gave me a pepper plant.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

First steps in May

I started sowing heritage and non-hybrid seeds in early May in recycled receptacles.  These were then left on the patio under cover of upturned clear plastic containers to do their thing.  Germination rates were surprisingly good and amazingly, most seedlings were in the ground by month's end.....

Bog rolls rule!
'Champion of England' climbing peas, 'White Emergo' runner beans,
'Summer Crookneck' and 'Pattison Orange' Patty Pan squashes,
'Russian Mammoth' and Aussie sunflowers, 'Hestia' dwarf runner beans,

'Golden Sweet' yellow mangetout, 'Cupidon' dwarf beans,
dwarf sugar snap peas, 'Double Standard' bicolour sweetcorn,

2 yr old Digger's Club heritage tomato seeds - every single seed germinated!
'Sanguina' beetroot,
Rocket in the fig pot,
and 'White Lisbon' spring onions
Climbing frame for tall peas
Teepee for beans, net frame for mangetout and yes,
the grass needed cutting!