Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Friday 7 March 2008

From all of these days

This time it really has been a week since I last blogged. Time is flying, and this week I’m glad it’s flown by as fast as it has – a nasty hospital appointment started the week off on a bad note that I didn’t want to continue. On the good side I’ve been swimming 4 times this week, an hour a time, and am burning off calories a-plenty. That could account for the 2.5″/ 3 inches off my waist – definitely something to smile about (and yet another reason for skirts and trousers never staying where I put them…).

So, the last week in brief:

Last Saturday we went to Durham. It was our first time because, for some strange reason, we imagined it to be much further than it actually was. We had a lovely time, tea and travel, bus rides and cathedrals (not keen on churches/ cathedrals who don’t let people take photos), charity shopping, students-doing-ridiculous-things-watching and enjoying being lovebirds in a new city. The covered-market has to be the best market I’ve been to in years – it sells the most wonderful selection of things from a haberdashery, general-household shops, healthfood stalls, and even a gourmet food stall (with very nice chaps running it).

The blossom is coming out in abundance, even in our town the trees of pink and white are billowing with blooms. We saw the first sign of this around Durham cathedral. Everyone is commenting that this is very early, it must be the sun we’ve had recently. We even got to mow our lawn the other day!

I love gerberas. Simple as that. They are such bright, happy things. Ours is residing in our dining room, taking pride of place at the dining table.

Another colourful addition to the VintagePretty household has been these potatoes. Grown locally and in a nature-sympathetic manner, they taste gorgeous and look every bit as strange when cooked as they do raw. I made some of ours into potato wedges – just imagine that, purple chips!

Today has been the day when I started planting in earnest. The sowing began with broad beans and ended with scarlet kale. Whilst turning the bed over I found numerous little caches of peanuts, buried by an enterprising little squirrel. I think he’s hoping for a bumper crop, little do they know that peanuts only thrive in tropical climates! Perhaps I should get him a peanut piggy-bank?

The crocuses are beautiful. Of course I say it every year, but they are one of the first things to emerge and one of the most colourful. The veining is lovely to look at and their unique triangular shape has always fascinated me.

Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see (I very much hope it stays this way too – grey clouds on the horizon are something I don’t want to face right now)…

And me in my slippers. Don’t you garden in your slippers, too? I find it quite… liberating.

Friday 29 February 2008

Going (paper) potty

[We did indeed get the washing line up. This is my favourite photo of the year so far. I love it!]

It has come once again. The time of year when, at Chez VintagePretty, I relinquish the use of our back bedroom for the sole purpose of growing beautiful plants. It’s actually surprisingly easy to grow-your-own and so much cheaper than buying seedlings from garden-centres. For instance, a packet of tomato seeds is usually £1.39 and from that (much to my surprise) almost every seed came up, leaving us with almost a hundred little tomato seedlings – about a third (20-odd) of which we kept and grew on (if you’re an allotment-holder you can barter readily with neighbours for other seedlings), producing a bumper crop despite last summer’s poor weather. Before that we used to buy the tomato plants themselves, costing £2.99 for 6 plants, with at least a couple not surviving. It makes huge financial sense to grow from seed, and as there is very little equipment needed to grow them, it is a sure-fire way of growing your favourite varieties.

Last Christmas my MIL bought us, as a joint present, a paper potter. A wonderful invention it allows you to make the tiny cell-like pots from old newspapers. I’d completely forgotten we had it until the other day when I wanted to start planting some seedlings – it flicked into my head and, raiding the recycling bin for old newspapers I got cutting. You make the strips and wind them around the handle-bit, once done you fold the ends over the bottom and press hard into the stand. It makes lots of beautifully-formed cell pots which biodegrade naturally.

I made a start with the leeks. I tried growing leeks from seed a few years ago and it failed horribly – nothing seemed to come up. Since doing some research on the subject in my many gardening manuals, I’ve come up with a better way of doing it – almost everyone recommends filling pots with compost and sowing the seeds on top, allowing them to grow a little bit before planting them out. The packets tell you otherwise, but I’m going with what others say works. We’re trying “Castor” this year.

I also planted half of the butternut squash seeds. These are my first butternut squashes I’ve grown and according to the packet they are the only truly “born and bread”UK butternut. Apparently suited for all weathers and will produce a prolific crop whatever our British summer throws at us. They are called “Butternut Hunter” and as I love anything from the curcubita family, I hope I won’t be disappointed by this crop!

Yesterday saw me listening to the Afternoon Play “Ghandi’s Goat” by Matthew Coombes, drinking a cup of Rooibos tea (as well as sugar-free and calorie-restricting, I’ve now dropped caffeine too!) and scribbling lists on pieces of paper.  This is the best way to organise onesself – write a list of what’s got to be planted when, in chronological order.  You can tick off what’s been done and what hasn’t and how it’s got to be planted (indoors or out).

Vegetables still to be planted are: parsnips, perennial (!) broccoli, broad beans “Express”, French beans “Lazy Housewife”, pumpkins, tomatoes “Moneymaker”, mixed salad leaves, spinach “Mediana”, kale “Scarlet”, swiss chard and potatoes. We’re also hoping for a small but plentiful crop of raspberries whose canes are now starting to bud.

And as for annuals this year we’re growing an array of new ones. Of course I’m still going for things like godetia and some sunflowers dotted around, but we’re also trying asters, lupins, aquilegias (had problems with these before), mixed butterfly-friendly seeds, poppies, phytostegia “alba”, antirrhinum “Monarch mixed”, stocks “Ten-week mixed”, malope and some more whose names escape me.

But now a little break in the proceedings to show you chicken-related cuteness for today:

It’s also been the weather for tulips and narcissus to show their faces. Only a day later than its neighbour, the crocus, this little tulipa bakerii “Lilac Wonder” showed its beautiful pink face.

On the swimming front I’ve just come back from a 70-minute swim managing a very lush 50 lengths. That’s 1.25km or 0.77 miles! Unfortunately the weight doesn’t seem to be “falling off” as I had hoped, but nonetheless I’m feeling better for it!

Now playing: Chris Bathgate – Serpentine

Friday 8 February 2008

A little bit of everything

[Sunset last night that turned the whole room pink]

I’m not wholly sure where the time goes anymore. It seems to rush past me in a blur of things done and things still to do. I have emails left to answer and chickens to muck-out, people to phone and appointments to sort. The hormone tablets are now a distant memory, and they seem to have had the required effect, which means that one hurdle has been jumped and overcome. I’ve had another round of blood tests, which had to be done on an empty stomach, the nurse was amazingly speedy at doing the blood-taking itself, and gave me a knowing look when she saw my medical records and my consultant.

After 17 hours of not eating I walked home from the Doctor’s surgery and made mental comment to myself at just how warm it is today. Not just mild – in the sun it was warm. Too warm almost for a coat; definitely too warm for February (heating off, windows open). I got home and made myself a splendid breakfast of orange juice and poached eggs on granary toast. I took this, on my new (and dearly beloved) Ikea tray, to the dining table where I breakfasted like a queen.



I’ve also been busy in the garden, getting lots of exercise in the best way possible – watching the hens devour grated carrot and swede, and planting raspberry canes left, right and (slightly-off) centre…

[Nutmeg, devouring carrot]

[Raspberry ‘Glen Clova’, one of 10.]

I also found an Esca-pea(!), one that survived the mice and the frosts. Clever thing.

[An Esca-pea!]

On Monday I got a knock on the door from our postie (which made me jump out of my skin and almost fall down the stairs) who delivered this lovely parcel from Jane. I won her bag giveaway, and she sent this wonderful Bag ‘o’ Bags, absolutely perfect for the weekly Farmer’s market, supermarket shop and brilliant to keep in the car for any eventuality. She chose the most beautiful fabric – exactly my sort of pattern. I adore them and Mr. VP thinks they are the height of eco-bag sophistication! One doesn’t get a better recommendation than that!

(I have photos of the bags in use, but they are on Mr. VP’s camera, I’ll nab them off him tonight!)

And as I was sitting for a brief rest and a play with G, I glanced the rainbows moving around the walls, it was the sun on our solar-powered rainbow-maker again.  For a brief moment it stopped; I opened my hand and caught this little shard of rainbow in my palm.

I’m still an absentee at the moment – I’ll post here and there, whenever I can.

Now playing: Jane Siberry – Calling All Angels

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Sugar and vinegar

We have a glut of green tomatoes (methinks “am I on a tomato theme?“), tomatoes which, however many bananas I put them next to, will not go red. This is because they are too young to ripen. There is little else one can do with them but chutney. At their youngest the skin is tough and the flesh quite hard, however this simple procedure transforms them into something wonderful. The tangy green flavour is not unpleasant, however it needs some attention and at the moment I’m not in an ‘experimental’ phase. I’m in a tried-and-true, comfort phase, so my known method of dealing with 3lbs of very unripe, green tomatoes is chutney.

Few things can survive boiling in an acid and sugar mixture for hours on end, yet by some wonderful feat of malty alchemy the end product is a uniformly browny-green concoction with a beautiful smell and taste. It successfully breaks down the green tomatoes into a softer, mellower texture. Perfect as an accompaniment to bread and cheese, on sandwiches and with your favourite meals.

I didn’t follow a recipe this time around, because I wasn’t using ingredients that the recipe I had, called for. So I used what I had in the kitchen which included onions (homegrown), courgettes (homegrown), tomatoes (homegrown), Worcester and Cox apples (British), Williams pears (organic), raisins and sultanas, sugar (light brown soft), vinegar (a mix of distilled and spiced-malt), cinnamon sticks and a mix – a very unique mix – of herbs, spices and seeds wrapped up in muslin. I like my chutney sweet, but with a tang, so I am happy adding the 11 ozs called-for in the recipe. It still has a tang, as of course it would – nothing with 1 1/2 pints of vinegar could escape the tang-factor. You chop the vegetables and fruit up into dice, add vinegar and spice, bring to the boil and then simmer for anywhere between 3 to 6 hours. However turn it up too high at your peril* – many a woman has made chutney and turned it up too high only to find it sticking to the bottom and burning. Slow and gentle is the way to go, even if it takes hours, which it will. Usually between 3 and 6, depending on the amount.

Chutney keeps incredibly well. It is one of the best ways of using up your glut, and as it keeps for a long time, is also wonderful as gifts at Christmas. However it does need to mature, usually for 3 to 6 weeks. I usually can’t wait that long, but the flavour does change completely and get much yummier when it is fully matured. So mitts off until it’s ready! Once cooked, put into hot, sterilised jars and pop a waxed disc on top. Cover with cellophane lids, as for jam, and leave somewhere to cool and mature. I call this “Christmas chutney”, just because everything at this time of year is being horded for that time when the nights are dark and lonesome, there is a tree glowing in my hearth and because just getting to write the word christmas gives me thrills – I admit I love the season a wee bit too much.

[Sorry for the awful picture quality, the day is so grey it needed a flash, which caused it to look a funny colour]

*I started writing this as it was on the stove downstairs and the bottom caught whilst I wasn’t paying attention. See! It really does happen! Do not leave your chutney unattended! It was fine, it hadn’t burned (phew), it was just beginning to stick.

Now playing: Nat King Cole – Nature Boy

Thursday 9 August 2007

August, a month in the garden

[Strawberry ‘Honeoye’]

You know, I’ve not written one of my infamous gardening guides for ages now, so I thought I’d get back into the swing. After all, as lovely as photos are, there has to be something else, other than pretty flowery photos, right? Okey-dokey, lets get going!

August, if the weather is good, can be a lovely month but usually not that conducive to heavy gardening, and although this year, it probably won’t be the baking heat keeping you indoors, it’s still not really a month that you can get much done. Summer in the garden, is typically a restful sit-back and relax time, the frenetic activity takes place in the Spring and Autumn, but there is still much to be done!

[A borlotti bean pod!]

Lets start with the flower beds…

  • Thin those annuals! If you, like me, grow masses of wonderful annuals, now is a great time to thin them out. You should, in theory, have been doing this every few weeks, but the weather hasn’t made this easy. As we’ve had quite a few nice days, intermingled with some wet ones, annuals like cornflowers, godetia and snapdragons have shot up to record sizes, meaning they swamp everything else, including your prized perennials! This has to stop, so select any that are looking past their best and thin them out, or trim them down. Make sure that your perennials have plenty of light and air around them, otherwise you’ll start to have problems with downy mildew and aphids.
  • Weed the beds! The weeds this year have been prodigious, especially dandelions, milkweed and sow-thistles. And as yet I’ve not really been able to do very much about it. But now is an excellent time to start. A cool evening is the perfect time to explore all of those nooks and crannies, and to attack those weeds with a hoe. I prefer a pair of stout rubber gloves for gardening, and though it may look a bit domestic-goddessy in the garden, they are marvellous at avoiding the stings of nettles, the prick of bramble thorns and the rough and tumble of the garden.
  • Excavate the compost heap! We decided to do this the other weekend and we finally got to come face-to-face with my little garden-friend, our compost mouse. We apologised for the intrusion, and hope she’s forgiven us for taking apart her little home, with 4 nests and lots of little tunnels criss-crossing the heap, but it really needed a good empty in there, and what better an opportunity than a lovely warm day? We used our compost to fertilise the beds we had cleared and to…
  • Mulch the beds! When it’s dry vegetables need a little helping hand, and homemade compost acts as a brilliant mulch on just about everything. Banana skins work wonders placed at the base of roses, and homemade compost has tons of great stuff in it. It saves lots of fruit and vegetable waste from going into landfill, thus saving the planet!
  • Dead-head your flowers! There is nothing sadder than the sight of a rose with lots of dead flowerheads on it. Not only does it hold back repeat-flowering, it causes the roses to put all their energy into making fruit, rather than luscious posies of the prettiest colours and scents. Some roses don’t repeat, but help those that do by dead-heading! You can also give roses a tidy by giving them a quick ‘summer prune’. David Austen recommends that:

After each flush of flowers has finished, cut back the flowering stems to two or three sets of leaves. You may also notice that the occasional new long, strong stem will appear from the base of the shrub, or sometimes grows higher up from older branches. These can grow quickly above the frame of the plant and look a little out of place at first. These stems are in fact very beneficial, forming strong, healthy new stems which will flower next season. We recommend that you trim these new stems back slightly when carrying out summer pruning, just enough to maintain the nicely rounded shape of the shrub.

  • Don’t forget the wildlife! Red squirrels find their food sources are greatly diminished in Summer and often stuggle to find food, so putting out a good source of protein and nuts is fantastic. Peanuts are relatively mineral and vitamin-deficient, and other sources such as walnuts and hazel nuts are much better, and are guaranteed to be loved by your little fluffy-red thing. If you have grey squirrels, why don’t you consider getting a nice air rifle and having some dinner? Grey squirrels are bad (for our cute little native red squirrel), but at this time of year are nice and plump, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Giles Coren have both enjoyed a meal from them, apparently tasting a bit chickeny and a bit porky! You shouldn’t forget birds too, who may not be suffering a lack of food (if the thrush I saw demolishing my reserve of the plumpest blackberries is anything to go by…) but in hot weather they do struggle to get a drink. Putting water bowls and bird-baths out is fundamental for the little feathered folk who inhabit the garden!
  • Don’t cut the lawn too short! This is a serious point. Our lawn, after weeks of not being cut from the horrid rain we’d had, loved it when we gave it a harsh cut, but now that it’s dried out, treat it delicately and put it on a high (long) setting. This will help your lawn stay green and not die off in the heat.
  • Crop your vegetables! Onions, runner beans, the last peas and potatoes are all at their best this month. Lay the onions, freshly picked, onto the hot Summer soil and they should dry out, leaving you able to plait them and store for the long months ahead. I’ve just plucked some real beauties, which shows how much difference the rain has made from the tiny shallot-types we had last year! If you’ve got any peas that have “gone over”, they make a wonderful soup along with any lettuce that has bolted – H F-W has the recipe, Pea, Lettuce and Lovage soup. Just as well we have a towering lovage plant!
  • Feed those tomatoes! Feed your tomatoes with a good-quality, organic food every week for the rest of their lives. This will keep them happy, and water often (twice a day!) to avoid blossom-end rot, which although unsightly doesn’t change the tomato too much, as long as you cut the rotten bit off – it just looks horrid. And speaking of feeding vegetables squashes and pumpkins need to be given a jolly good feed. They are hungry, piggy things and need as much food as you can throw at them!

So that’s my month in the garden. Next month we start the mammoth job of clearing beds and starting to plan for next year’s crop. And we’ll hopefully have some tomatoes to make passata with. But until then, enjoy!

Friday 27 July 2007

A woman of few words.

I can’t help it, the sun is shining, washing is on the line, and there is so much to do. Bathrooms to clean, poetry to read (and, of late, write), duvets to shake in the breeze and chickens to tend. Pea-pod soup to attempt (!) and rays, bright rays of sunlight to enjoy.

But just look what’s been happening in the garden!

[These are two photos of those illustrious un-nameable flowers. Definitely not cornflowers, as you can see! They begin as little spiky heads and break out into masses of individual flowers. Lovely, but a mystery!]

And I can’t even begin to tell you about the hundreds of ripe pods I’ve pulled, potatoes lifted and lemon-balm tea imbibed.

The chickens are laying beautifully, despite having a case of the “summer lice” – think headlice for chickens, though thankfully not interested in human blood. A dose of louse powder later, and they are sorted out.

And Borlotti beans, finally emerging. I’d forgotten all about them, the plants are tiny and have been swamped by all the other surrounding vegetation.

You’re all cordially invited around to tea and cake – I’ve been on a lemon sponge-sandwich kick, with gorgeous lemon buttercream icing. I cannot think of anything more pleasurable than baking a cake. Size zero? You’ve got to be kidding! Have a lovely weekend!

Friday 6 July 2007


I think I blog more when the sun is out and about. Yesterday was the first and only day this week that we’ve had any ‘significant’ amount of sun at all – my poor peas are not swelling, because they don’t have access to much sun, and my potatoes in pots became waterlogged and literally rotted in their skins. If you haven’t smelled liquified potatoes, I can liken the smell to rotting meat ~ a putrid smell that took 5 hand-washes to remove, and which has left me wondering just how I can remove the plants, and where they’ll go.

Our roof is leaking too. The constant dripping is a bit like water torture, though the rhythmic noise of the splis-splash in the bucket is strangely cathartic and reassuring – mainly because it hasn’t (yet) been replaced by the noise of the ceiling collapsing. Our insurance company is so busy taking care of the “flood refugees” in parts of Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Lincolnshire that any claim will take a while to sort out. I don’t begrudge the insurance company for prioritising the most urgent cases, I do begrudge them that they lost our claim and that we’ll have to wait another week to get anyone to talk to us about sorted it out! But we are very, very lucky that we’re not one of the thousands of people whose homes were submerged. I can live with a bit of a drip.

[Monarda Didyma “Cambridge Scarlet“]

And then there’s the car which has had to be serviced and MOT‘d, but they found things that needed repairing – cars are not cheap things to run, even diddy ones like mine.

But when I’ve been able to get out without needing my lovely poncho, I have found no small amount of solace in the harvest of vegetables and flowers which have kept us fed and our minds happy. Never underestimate the scent of a rose or the taste of a freshly-picked courgette to uplift the senses. I managed all this in just a few minutes, hunting around the blackcurrant bush, raiding the nest-box and giving the rainbow chard a haircut. Yum.

And if all else fails, how about a scone? These are the best scones I’ve ever made ~ I don’t know what I did differently but they are heavenly. Yum. Cup of Steenbergs’ Tippy Darjeeling anyone?

And I will try, my very hardest to get around to everyone and comment, ok? :)

P.s. Did you notice the little Gallery widget on my sidebar? If not, have a look! It’s nifty, you can click and have a look at my most recent pictures (or click random, you’ll get a medly!) – handcrafted by my husband, he is a clever bunny!

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