I dig therefore I am

There’s a fresher air in Dublin this week as late summer breezes by and autumn blows in. My summer of discontent has been and gone and much like the changing of the seasons, my life has shifted in to a brand new phase.

It’s been an arduous summer here at Fiona Grows Food, plagued with health issues and some upheavals in my personal life, my garden has taken a back seat to the pursuit of health and happiness.

At times, the garden hasn’t been quite as productive as I’d have liked and I’ve spent a significant amount of time lately attempting to juggle the real world with my dream world. The dream world in this case being the ability to garden and write for a living.

Dream office alert!

Now that autumn is upon us, I am in the heart of harvest season and I’m left to take stock of the summer that has passed and think about what has and hasn’t worked for me in the garden.

The past few days I’ve been thinking about the nature of the changing seasons and the cycles of our lives. Thinking of how our gardens can reflect everything else in our world and how that reflection can guide us to where we are meant to be.

Now, before you wonder what the hell has happened to mad, hilarious Fiona and begin to panic at the thought that I might have become a bit of a poetic, philosophical bore, bare with me. This is an absolute cracker of a realisation I have to share with you! Then I promise I’ll get back to my usual slapstick gardening humour.

I do still have my funny moments to be fair…caught someone in a quite compromising parsnip position the other day…

Over the past few years, I’ve been juggling some hefty commitments, including a 50 hour a week thankless job, a blog, freelance writing commitments, food growing workshops and of course, a pretty large veggie garden.

Of all these things, the one that has taken up the majority of my time has been my job. Not that I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, I have enjoyed my work the past few years and am grateful for the amazing opportunities that it has afforded me. However, it just wasn’t right for me anymore.

I no longer had time to write or to dig, I had no space to blossom.

Plants and people are not so different really and this is the overarching point of my preposterous poetic preamble; if we treat ourselves and our lives the way we treat our plants, we’ll be all the better for it.

Think about it.

If you are a gardener yourself, you’ll know that when a plant is wilting, diseased or dying, it’s not the plant that is at fault, the problem is the environment.

This is why we grow some plants in polytunnels instead of outside

If a plant is parched, we water it, if it’s starved, we give it light, if it’s struggling we support it.

Put simply: if your plants are not thriving, you change their environment.

When a plant doesn’t perform well, we don’t scream at it, admonish it or bully it into submission (except for weeds, I’ve been know to scream at weeds on occasion). We take note of what has caused the problem and take steps to avoid the issue in future.

We repot it. Change the way we water it. Bring it in indoors. Give it less sun or more. We plant it in a different environment, we adjust our care in line with its needs, we try something new in the (sometimes vain) hope that next time, the plant will thrive.

If all that fails, we simply try again.

As gardeners, we are care givers, we are bound to the many lives we have become responsible for. We are held to account by our plants, and rewarded by our dedication and diligence.

We measure our successes in harvests and seeds, the more we put in, the more we are rewarded and we are guided by a tangible desire to do what is best, not only for our plants but for ourselves too.

In fact, based on these findings, I think it’s time for another one of my Fiona Grows Food Mathematical Discoveries of the Century.

Where:

A=hard work

B=desire for success

C=time spent in the garden

D=plant knowledge

Y=Tomatoes

Then:

I haven’t used any square roots here as the roots I work with are far too organic in structure for me to quantify in a single equation.

Mind Blown.

*patiently awaits phone call from Nobel prize committee* (there’s a Nobel prize for best off the cuff blog thesis right? Right?)

Now that we’ve had a small scientific segue, back to my original point.

In essence, plants that are stressed need a change of environment and in that regard, the same can be said for people.

If a person is wilting, hungry for more, struggling to grow or needs more space for their roots to spread, the fault is not with that person, but with their environment.

That is exactly what has happened to me this year. The garden has suffered and the blog has suffered. My days were spent in a toxic environment and no matter what I did, I was wilting.

So I’ve taken a leaf (trolololol) out of my book of gardening experience and I’ve decided to change my environment. In a decision that took forever to make and yet only took seconds to finally come to, I’ve left behind my old job and found something far more suited to me.

There’s a very well known saying about money and I’m sure you know exactly which one I mean. The only thing is, most of us get it horribly wrong.

The old adage doesn’t go “money is the root of all evil”. Well it does, but everyone leaves out the most important part, the beginning.

It’s from the bible. The correct quote is in fact “The love of money is the root of all evil”. 1 Timothy 6:10

It’s getting biblical up in here lads (and yes I have in fact read the bible but that’s a topic for another day).

If we break this quote down in its purest grammatical terms (nerd alert) it’s not the noun that is creating the negative outcome, but the verb. It’s the doing. Actions are always undertaken with some level of intent (and yes I believe that love is an action and not just a feeling), and to all intents and purposes, having money doesn’t cause evil, the relentless pursuit of having nothing but money does.

Officially changing my name to Fiona Descartes Kelly. Has a nice ring to it.

Money definitely cant buy happiness, but in a garden you can grow it.

As such, I’ve decided my health and the pursuit of my own happiness and well being is far more important than the pursuit of money, so I’ve struck out and decided to try something new in the hopes that I will have more time to write, more time to garden and to tend to my needs and the needs of my plants.

I have landed myself an amazing freelance content writing role with the super sound team at buzz.ie and I have some very exciting plans for Fiona Grows Food and of course for my garden.

I am in a far healthier environment for my needs now.

All that being said, my allotment has been thriving this year despite the diminished time I’ve spent there the past few weeks.

It helps that the plot is well established now and no matter what, I always have my perennials to enjoy. I did put a lot of work in earlier in the year and it really shows when late summer and early autumn arrive.

I’ve been harvesting mountains of tomatoes, courgettes, raspberries, beetroot and cucumbers and I’m just about to head around to the garden to finally pick some sweetcorn.

I’m excited about the future, I’m excited to grow and I’m excited to spend more time getting down and dirty in my favourite place in the world.

I am warning you though, you’ll be subjected to a lot more of my insane takes on gardening now that I have more time to write about it.

 

You think you’ve seen it all….bikinis in the polytunnel, bare arsed gardening, falling into ponds…but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

I’m only getting started.

Fiona Cooks Food: Courgette & Tomato Soup

I’ve had a few requests lately for recipes. I have at times shared a recipe or two but I’ve decided to share a recipe a week on the blog in an effort to improve my cooking skills. 

Now, I’m not the best cook in the world (Fiona Burns Food) but I’ve really had to get creative in the kitchen this year as I’ve had so many veggies from the garden. When you grow your own food, it’s just as important to spend time in the kitchen as it is in the garden as it’s pretty redundant to grow vegetables and simply just look at them. 

I am a pretty dab hand at baking as I worked in a bakery for a couple of years (I am the queen of making pastry) so I’ll probably be sharing lots of sweet treats and bread recipes, but this week, I wanted to share a souper summery soup recipe for using up your gluts of courgettes and tomatoes.

This soup is really easy to make and it’s the perfect dish for turning summer vegetables into a warm meal that you can bring to the garden in a flask for a pick me up. Soup is a great way to use up a vegetable glut and can be frozen for up to two months. 

Courgette “Gold Rush”

 

Fiona’s Souper Summer Soup

Ingredients:
600g Courgettes 

600g Tomatoes 

2 Onions

1 Garlic clove

2 Celery Stalks

25g Butter

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp tumeric

1 handful of fresh sage leaves

450ml vegetable stock

Method: 

  • Crush the garlic clove and chop your celery, onions, courgettes and tomatoes. Do not do what I did and accidentally forget to do your prep and find yourself frantically chopping tomatoes while also trying to stir your soup. Stress soup! 
  • Melt butter in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic and celery and cook for five minutes. 
  • Add chopped courgette and cook on a low heat for ten minutes. This is around the time when your kitchen begins to smell like heaven. Avoid getting your drool in the pot, spit soup hasn’t really taken off as a thing yet.
  • When the courgette has softened, add your chopped tomatoes, flour and sage and stir constantly for five minutes. Do not wander off for five minutes to watch the Great British Bake Off/check the immersion is off/sweep the floor. Do not sweep soup. Valuable life lesson.
  • Pour in the vegetable stock and bay leaf and a teaspoon of turmeric and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Use a hand blender or food processor to blend your soup.
  • Top with soft goats cheese (optional, I adore goats cheese, be still my bleating heart) and serve. 
  • Pat self on back, eat soup, make lots of appreciative noises, slurp to your heart’s content, then look around at the mess in your kitchen and weep. 


Easy peasy soupy squeezy. Next week I’ll share my lovely minty courgette fritter recipe which I’ve been eating for lunch pretty much every day. Oink. 


Fiona Cooks Food: Lemon Balm & Rosemary Shortbread Biscuits.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “what do you do with all your crops?” And my answer is invariably a confused “Ehhh, I eat them”

There’s something undeniably satisfying about picking crops from your garden and using them in a meal and when you grow your own food, you learn to use your fresh ingredients to make lots of new and exciting dishes. Im going to be sharing some of my dishes this year on the blog.

My first job was at age 15 in my Aunt’s bakery where I learned how to bake, it was, to this day, one of my more valuable work experiences. I worked there for two years and fell in love with the processes of creating cakes that make people happy. Being a French style bakery, we make a huge amount of pastry and to this day, I pride myself on being able to make perfect choux pastry. 

This week, my Mam was talking about Lemon Balm, a beautiful herb we both grow in our gardens so I decided to bake  something using fresh Lemon Balm inspired by my Mam, the gardener and my aunt Louise, the baker.

Shortbread is both very easy and very tricky to get right. If you get it right, the biscuits crunch and crumble in your mouth, if you get one step wrong, they’ll be either lack that distinctive crumble or they’ll turn out like soggy cardboard. The basic ingredients are simple, the trick is to use what I call the 123 process. One part sugar, two parts butter and three parts flour. 

Shortbread is a wonderful carrier for flavour. Usually flavoured with vanilla, I thought it would be nice to use fresh Lemon Balm and Rosemary from the allotment for a blend of citrus and savoury flavours. 
The biscuits turned out perfect; buttery and crumbly with a mild hint of lemon that lingers in the mouth long after you’ve finished. Here’s my recipe for the biscuits if you’d like to give them a try. 

Ingredients:

100g caster sugar

200g butter (room temperature)

300g plain flour

A bundle of fresh Lemon Balm

Fresh Rosemary 

  1. Mix the butter and sugar together until they reach a pale creamy consistency. Ensure your butter is at room temperature, do not use warm or melted butter as this will result in a tough biscuit.
  2. Finely chop a large bunch fresh lemon balm and a small amount of rosemary and add these to your butter and sugar mix. 
  3. Slowly fold in your flour. Don’t overwork the flour as this will ruin the crumble effect. It’s better to do this part by hand. Rub the ingredients together into a breadcrumb consistency. 
  4. Bring together your dough, if it is too crumbly you can add a tiny drop of water (tiny). Shortbread dough can be tricky to work with as it is quite dry.
  5. Roll out your dough on a floured surface and cut your biscuits and score the surface. Place these in the fridge for thirty minutes. If you skip this step, the biscuits won’t hold their shape in the oven. 
  6. Toast some rosemary leaves while the biscuits are chilling. Sprinkle these on the top of your biscuits and sprinkle some caster sugar over the top.
  7. Place your shortbread in  preheated oven at 180c and allow to cook for 20-25 minutes. Keep a close eye on the biscuits as they can burn very quickly.
  8. When the biscuits are golden, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. 


Enjoy

Fiona Cooks Food: Kale and Apple Soup

Hi All. Since moving house a couple of months ago, I haven’t been blogging at all. New routine, new challenges, new life. I’ve also had to learn how to cook. The horror. Considering that up until now, my idea of cooking consisted of sticking a pizza in the oven (and most likely burning it) this is a huge deal! It’s not that I hate cooking, I just hate stirring and tend to avoid it at all costs. This is a pretty disgraceful with me being a gardener with a huge amount of fresh ingredients to hand and so I have decided to begin cooking the food from my plot and writing about it. Warning, this may lead to a plethora of posts about charred veggies and my kitchen on fire. Watch this space.

Right now, the plot is in off season. The weather is bad, winter is ravaging my crops and a bad storm this week all but decimated what was left of my vegetables. I do, however, have a lot of Kale. Kale is one of my favourite vegetables so I’ve decided to try out a few new recipes as it’s in season, healthy, tasty and easy to cook.

Nothing says winter food like soup, and I currently have enough onions to feed an entire soup kitchen, so today I made a very simple and tasty kale and apple soup with walnuts.

I used two different varieties of Kale, both grown on my plot. I didn’t burn down the kitchen, though I did slightly over-toast my walnuts and there are bits of kale everywhere, but it turned out to be delicious and very filling.

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Ingredients:

175g Kale (duh)                                           450ml of Vegetable Stock

2 Apples (I used red apples)                   2 tbsp of cider vinegar

1 large red onion                                        Chopped walnuts

2 Carrots                                                       Créme Fraiche

 

Method:

Stab wildly at onion with carving knife while bawling your eyes out (pro tip: this is a very good time to have a cry about your ex, your bank balance or your dead dog as nobody will be any the wiser and will blame onion).

Peel carrots and roughly grate. This will be your gym time for the week. Ensure you do not grate finger.

Core apples and chop. Maybe use a third apple for inevitable casual munching.

Throw onions, apples and carrot into a large pot that seems large but when you’re adding the kale later, will seem like the smallest pot in the western world.

Add 450ml of veggie stock and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar. Warning: do NOT take a casual swig of cider vinegar to “see what it’s like”.

Bring to the boil while undertaking the most tedious task of all time, stirring. (anybody who’d like to buy me a robostir for Christmas, I would very much appreciate it). Once boiled, lower heat – do not accidentally turn off heat on your impossible to work gas cooker – and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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While this is simmering, gently toast some chopped walnuts on a pan. Gently. Black walnuts are not great. I tried. Not great at all. Remove from heat (this part is pretty essential).

Chop Kale. And by chop I mean rip apart with bare hands into small bunches and squeeze into the deceptively small pot. Do this a small piece of kale at a time, do not throw a load in and wildly have to stab down into soup with a wooden spoon. Allow this to cook for a further 3-5 minutes.

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Remove from heat without burning your new tea towel on the open flame of gas cooker and pour into a blender. Ensure the lid is on tight, kale is very difficult to remove from a ceiling. Blend soup and pour into bowl.

Add a dollop of créme fraiche and your toasted walnuts and serve. To yourself, because you’re all alone. Sob.

I had some toasted ciabatta with goats cheese with my soup. It was very tasty and wasn’t at all ruined by my tears.

Sit back, be amazed at your kitchen prowess and enjoy this very tasty and filling soup.

 

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