Monday, 21 June 2010

Home grown

Inspired by Anne and her green thumb, I thought I'd update on the house and garden.

Ever since we moved into Rochester Square just over a year ago, our back pantry has been stuffed with clutter. Not just any clutter - boxes of J's psychology textbooks, bags of elderly computer equipment, camping gear and so on. Not much that we actually want to get rid of (apart from maybe a mouldy suitcase or two) but general stuff taking up three times more room than it should. And since we moved our bed from the front room to the box room (finally repainted and dry after the Great Floods of '09) that room's been filled with a collection of clutter and Anne's furniture.

After a nicely lazy Saturday (three football matches, a quick trip to Proud Gallery in Camden Market to see our friend Giles play guitar and two movies), J awoke on Sunday with a peculiar light in his eyes. "Come on," he said, poking me, "let's sort out the house." And once we got started, it became kind of addictive. We threw out so much crap from the pantry we had room to store some of the furniture in there. The front room is now a light and airy space, ready for me to turn into a home office, with plenty of room for J's guitars. Anne's loveseat is in front of the only big window in the house which gets enough light. It's become Mojo's new top spot and a lovely place to while away a few hours reading.

We also cleaned the place from top to bottom, which we'd neglected to do for a while. I'd been doing rooms piecemeal here and there but a proper spring (well, summer) clean was in order.

So, when we finished, slightly sore of back but light of heart, I wandered out into the garden for a cigarette, only to realise with the heat and rain of the last couple of weeks, the garden has gone completely bananas. The slugs/snails have eaten all my marigolds (little bastards), but thankfully left most everything else alone. I've got some copper tape for the tubs which should mean I can replant without fear of slug theft again, but I was faintly amazed by how completely they'd managed to decimate what had been fairly large plants - whilst the begonias in the pots next to them were completely untouched. Luckily, the slimy villans do not appear to have cottoned onto the raspberry and blueberry bushes and strawberry plants yet, so our al fresco lunch between room-tidyings came with a warm-from-the-sun, sweet, homegrown treat. The fuschia I was so worried about has actually budded and the clematis montana is about to take over the back fence.

So the next big task (next weekend) is to lop the overgrown buddliea and lilac bushes into shape and give the garden the sun it should have. I swear that lilac has grown four - six feet in the last 12 months. The buddleia seems to do the same in three; more to follow with some additional pictures.

And to finish with a recipe, given the nature of this blog: I made this lasagne this week, much to J's delight. It's rationed to once every couple of months as we can't help but eat the whole pan over a couple of days...

For the ragu sauce:

1 large onion
4 – 6 cloves of garlic
Splash olive oil
500g beef mince
Handful of dried mushrooms, rehydrated (keep the juice)
Large glass red wine
2 x tins chopped toms
Large squirt tomato puree
Splash balsamic vinegar
Glug Tabasco sauce
Glug Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Marmite (special secret ingredient)
Pinch of sugar
Oregano (big pinch)
Basil (middling pinch)
Fennel (smallish pinch) (You could use a scant tbsp of Italian seasoning in place of the three herbs)
Salt & fresh ground black pepper

Chop onions and garlic and fry in the oil til softened, stirring well, in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the beef mince and stir until browned. Add the mushrooms, red wine and mushroom juice. Stir well and add herbs. Heat high until bubbling well. Add chopped toms and tomato puree and dash of balsamic, Tabasco, Marmite and Worcestershire sauce. Add pinch of sugar. Leave over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. (You can add chopped bacon and/or chicken livers at the mushroom stage if liked).

For the b├ęchamel:

1 tbsp plain flour
c. 50g butter
2 pts milk
½ a nutmeg, grated
100g mature cheddar
S&P

Melt butter in the saucepan over a medium heat; add flour and stir like crazy til it bubbles a little (needs to cook off a bit). Add the milk bit by bit, stirring well, medium – high heat. It should thicken as you do it (if not, add 1 tsp cornflour mixed with 2 tbsps water at the end, but do wait a little while). Whisk it if it gets lumpy. Stir in nutmeg and S&P. Take off the heat and add the cheese – stir in til it melts.

Finishing off:

Lasagne sheets
100g cheddar, 75g parmesan

Now: assemble a large lasagne dish. Put half the meat sauce in the bottom. Put a layer of pasta sauce over the top. Pour a reasonably thick layer of cheese sauce over the sheets. Then put on the rest of the meat sauce carefully so it doesn’t mess up the cheese sauce layer below. Then another layer of pasta and another layer of cheese sauce. Sprinkle over both cheeses evenly over the top. Bake at gas mark 4 for about an hour until the cheese is browning on top and bubbling slightly.

Serve with a side salad (I use peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, red onion) dressed with homemade salad dressing (1 part balsamic, 2 pts red wine vinegar, 4 pts olive oil, pinch of herbs, pinch of sugar, clove of garlic whisked together).

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