Icy Buds

Parsley and stolen Thyme. Come back next year you two.

No, no, I meant frost on the budding flowers. Yes, we are buds, but I…okay, yes. Dear Buds, I’ve been pottering around the garden. My mobility is improving all the time, what’s funny is that with every stage that comes you assume that’s it, that there will be no great improvement and when it improves yet again I’m still shocked. It’ll all happen in time, I know, but what still is taking time to process is that this too will end. For now, let’s talk about gardens, or what remains of it at least.

I’m gradually cutting the rose back.

No way will I cut a live flower.

Let the leaves take in the last of the sunlight.

I have a habit of following my own hunches, dear reader, that’s not to say that I’m always right or that I refuse to listen. No, I take in all I’m told and base my hunches on that. Thus my roses are staying uncut until they fully die back. I sprayed them a month back and they’re still spotless now, if I’d let them they’d have blackspot again. The weather has been strange and instead of following the arbitrary dates and seasons I’ll look at the plants and base my decisions on them instead. Let’s face it: They probably know more about nature than I do, they’re outside all he time. Reading the leaves, so to speak, watching the clouds, looking at what has died back and what is flourishing, mostly weeds sadly, is the way I garden. It’s worked the last three years, hopefully it always will.

The Canna Indica bulbs are huge. I hope they flower more next year.

The Honeysuckle can be seen again. I have to tie a rope to hold back the Dahlias for next year.

I wonder which will do better? Perhaps Jasmine will reach the top first.

Ignore the weeds! I’ve been puling huge handfuls, but the work of weeding is never done. Come warmer weather and a better healed abdomen I’ll be able to tackle them fully. For now I just keep them off the bulbs and plants. This will probably be the last Jack post of the year, dear reader, as you can see there just isn’t much happening and the weather is getting colder. For now I’ll just sit here and plan, research and imagine. Come next year all your gardening post needs will be met. For now I fiddle with recipes, hopefully posting a few and wait for warmer days.


Tootin’ Roots

Lowering the tone of the blog one root at a time.

I’ve been excavating, dear reader, rummaging in the soil for roots. You may remember my mystery artichokes, which it was decided were probably Jerusalem Artichokes, or Sunchokes. Which only the root of which is used. I decided to check out the roots of these newly established plants and as you can see they’ve grown quite a bit from the small pullet-egg sized roots, these were just the surface roots, I mostly wanted to see what hey were like and to confirm that they were most likely sunchokes. In double checking via Google I came across a third name or them, a nickname rather. They’re called Fartichokes due to their high levels of inulin. Marvel at the seven feet tall far jokes! I will probably try them at some point, most likely next Winter, but I’d like to see them flower and they might achieve that in their second year. The flowers aren’t supposed to be all that eye catching, but still.

It’s funny to think I’m thinking years in the future. When I was waiting for the surgery it was all but impossible to plan anything for the future, you never knew when you’d get a call. For now I still have to wait on some things, I can’t get tattooed until all the surgeries are through, it might cause trouble and I want all my healing devoted to my muscles which are doing well, stating to feel looser and vastly superior at even this early stage than they were before. It’s only that I’m now free from that pain, no back pain since the surgery!, that I really see how much pain I was in, just how much care and consideration I had to give each moment. I still find myself trying not to strain the phantom divide in the muscles. Let that be the title of Jack’s autobiography: The Phantom Divide. Snazzy.

They started to die back so I grabbed them. Not bad for a fluke.

Oh! I almost forgot, I checked my weight to make sure it’s hanging in there and it hasn’t gone up since the surgery. The lost six pounds, of skin, remain lost. My diet is set in stone and I’ve given up the soft drinks, over a month now, possibly, I forget, so it isn’t all that surprising, but what I found shocking was that weight gain is very common after surgeries like this. I can’t imagine going trough all I did and then putting the weight back on, not even a little of it. The countdown is starting, in just over a week I’ll be back talking about he next surgeries. Sitting shitless in a cold room. Worth the chill and red faces, dear reader, al of this is worthwhile. I’ll see you soon, possibly with a new recipe.

Parsnip? No, That’s An Albino Carrot

Two nut jars, five curry paste jars and a partridge in a pear tree.

People often say to me, they say Jack…well, actually they don’t because that’s just my Nome de plume, but they say to me, okay they don’t say anything, I’m just  running out of ways to start these posts. Good job, detective! You’ve ruined Christmas! Oh, speaking of Christ…what? That was a clever segway. Heh. Yeah, it’s that time of the year when every advert plays, preys maybe, on the festive spirit to sell you on things you don’t want nor need. Lucky for you, dear reader, I am here! Your stunned silence speaks volumes of my worth in your estimations.

So, this is the last of this years jam. A friend dropped in jars and I decided to make a batch of the raspberry and blackcurrant jelly out of he juice I froze a few months ago. It’s just this recipe, nothing fancy. I poured it into small jars as I want to gift a few, a thank you for the berries and jars is a given, but also I hate to open a jar of jam and feel I have to use it all. Small jars are convenient if fiddly to fill. I’ll invest in a set of small funnels I think. One of those maslin pans will be invested in to, I struggle when pouring the hot jam out and as it’s made with jam sugar it sets a skin quickly. This is boring isn’t it, dear reader? It’s this Winter weather, both the plants and my wits are withering in quick succession. Oh, speaking of plants.

Now that’s a segway.

Keep ’em dirty if you’re storing them.

My first ever parsnip. Back in March I planted parsnip seeds, they were expiring so I thought I’d give them a try. They failed to germinate sadly and I instead planed beetroot which was ruined by overly hot weather, so I started beetroot under cover and that worked really well. So I thinned and transplanted beetroot and let the rest grow. Over time the yellow beets were harvested, the shallots beside them were taken and I set about cleaning out the weeds. Then I saw this strange top, a few of them. The leaves looked unfamiliar, and I tell you I am very familiar with weeds, so I asked a friend and they told me they were parsnips. Yeah, all these months, having been tossed and planted over a fist-full started and this is the first of the harvest. Not a bountiful harvest, but a very enjoyable surprise when everything in the garden is dying back.

Though I have blanched parsnips in the freezer I may get some fresh and try making parsnip chips, fries if that makes it clearer, it’s the jam, jelly and jelly mix up again. I’m also going to try making some pecan nut butter as it’s exorbitantly expensive in the shops. I may use it simply in amaranth or I might try getting fancy with a gravy or sauce, I’ll see and if it works you’ll see. Some day I have to go back and try making butternut squash jam again. The last batch failed due to inexperience. All things in time, dear reader. Take care.

Jack, How’s Your Belly Button?

Amaranth as a side meals are my most varied.

Why thanks for asking, dear reader, it’s tickety-boo, this new model is vastly superior to the old one. Hmmm? Hey, it was that or: What Are They Doing With Your Nipples? (Yeah, I was asked that, took all my self control not to use that). I feel firm, but freer. That tight stiffness seems to be easing and I’m finding it easier to bend and twist, within reason of course, have no fear, dear reader, I’m being cautious and careful. I just thought an update on my abdominoplasty was in order. The next appointment, all talk for this year at least, is drawing near. I’m getting back to me, well, beyond what I was, maybe it’s better to say I’m becoming a better me. A happier, freer me. It’s not much of an update, but there’s nothing to say really and you can only see my scar by paid admission. Them’s the breaks, dear reader, should’ve booked a golden ticket to the Wondrous Jack’s Scar Extravaganza. It feels like me again, which is pretty strange to say, but a great feeling. The scar feels hard, but other than that I don’t feel any worse. Coughing is still a nuisance, but it’s getting better. Less a terror and more a slight discomfort.

More cottage pies.

I’ve bought some sumac and am currently playing around with that. I can’t handle marinaded meats and lemon is only used in dressings that don’t sit around too long so it’ll be interesting to see how a citrusy spice fares. I know the recipes haven’t been flowing, but I like posts like this in the droughts. I do try to keep it within the scope of the blog. Food and health related in other words. You don’t need to know the ins and outs, no, I’m not talking about belly buttons again, of my daily life. Because it’s rather dull and I value your time more than that, dear reader. I’ve bought some red beetroot, which has been blanched and frozen, as a test to see if it can be frozen that way. There are a lot of cases of blackened beetroot, which happened to mine this year, something to do with how it’s cooked, but no one seems sure. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before next year’s yellow beetroot harvest. They’re vastly superior to the red variety, the reds are too earthy and tough whereas the yellow are sweet and tender. I might try growing a few whites, if the seeds are available I’d grow sugar beets. My Father worked in a sugar factory, I can’t not try it given the chance. Besides, they’re supposed to be lovely roasted.

Hand cut, or I’d cut my hand on the peeler, julienned sweet potato over pesto spaghetti.

I still have so much pesto. I just have to remember not to over cook it, just a quick toss to heat. The Thai, yeah, Thai, not cinnamon because silly naming conventions, basil holds up amazingly even at a longer cook, but all the pestos retain their flavour after being in the freezer for months. Freshness counts for something I suppose. I’ll grow the sweet and Thai varieties next year, but the dark opal is being replaced, perhaps by a better strain or by a different basil. There are lemon and lime basils out here, I might try them. Having dishes and sauces with fresh herbs is the best in the Winter. The stuffing with fresh sage is still delicious. I have a lot of returning seeds to re-buy, but you never know what else will make its way into my garden next year. I hope the fruit bushes will produce more, the strawberries were great, but I’d like to see a few more raspberries and the blackcurrant and redcurrant should start producing something. Raspberry and redcurrant jam was a delicious accident so that’ll have to be repeated.

You’ll notice I’m not doing the festive round up this year, I’m just letting the whole season flow o’er me, ours is not to question why, ours is just to let it pass. I’m making it special for my nieces and nephew, but other than that I’m staying away. Keep the food, Jack is tired. I won’t spoil it for anyone, I’m just being zen about it, just call me bodhisattva Jack, or don’t, probably best not to. Saint Jack is fine. Heh. That’s it for now, dear reader, if you need festive recipes just check that link, the photos are broken, but the recipes are still there. Until later.

Winter Sugar

What is Winter Sugar? I hear you say to yourself, dear reader, now so inundated by the what is x method of article writing that you can no longer see a headline without rephrasing it to suit the formula. I tell you, dear reader, this dystopia is really rather dull. Winter sugar is of course the traditional use of snow to replace sugar in all…nearly had you there, just a little? No? Oh. Okay, I’ll level with you, you know that I suffer, I doubt anyone enjoys it, from Seasonal Affective Disorder, Google it, you could spend the winter in its entirety reading the same articles rewritten over and over again, and I often forget that that comes with a sugar craving. Not nice. Being the pig-head person that I am I’ve cut out soft-drink entirely in the last month. It was a case of just using them to kick the sugar itch once or twice a month, but due to corporate greed, the rarer corporate benevolence is scarcely seen, the formula is now a split between useless sugar and extremely detrimental, to me, artificial sweeteners and that means it’d be a battle to buy one I could drink, that I don’t need and don’t particularly want so I’m done. I’ve quit so much in my life it’s just habit now. Heh.

What happens now is I need to find something to while away the Winter months. I’m not offering this a guide, I have no idea how I’ll fare, you do what I do at your own peril, if it works I’ll take full credit, if not you’ll take full blame. I’m just writing down my thoughts to fill in the down time in the recipes and to give my brain something to do. I have music blaring out into my face while writing this. I’m at the stage where I need multiple distractions, I’ve stood in the kitchen cooking whilst doing a crossword with my headphones on full. It works a bit. The garden is a real double edged sword, for most of the year it means fresh air and exercise, good food and a distracting beneficial hobby. Whereas in the Winter it’s just a bleak reminder that Spring is very far away. So, naturally I need something to replace it. I’m call it: Going outside bundled up like an inuit. Yeah, in quitting the active gardening I’ll instead haunt it like a muffled up ghost. I think the fresh air will be beneficial. If nothing else I’ll stomp the soil and remember it won’t be that long…I hope.

Is this a food blog? That depends on who’s asking and if I’m feeling sarcastic

Now Jack might be my assumed name and and assumed to be my name, maybe I am an ass sometimes too, but it still stands for the many multifaceted benefits that the garden has brought me and you can be sure that that part of my brain is active. I might only be able to plan for now, but, dear reader, I will plan with all I have! I’m currently trying to learn how to cook asparagus as I’ll hopefully have a small crop of my own next year and don’t want to ruin it by mis-cooking it. I tend to like things well done, sometimes over done, a vestige of the days when I could only eat certain food by almost incinerating them. I’m getting better at it. I’m mostly oven baking because frying or sautéing ends up using so much oil. I love caramelised shallots, but that’s a lot of butter to use too often. Naturally eating well this time of year is big part of my plan, as it is all year round. Speaking of shallots, I’ve been reading up on grey, or true, shallots, a company in Ireland sells them in bulk and since I won’t be spending money on flower bulbs, well, many flower bulbs, I might get some and fill a bed with them. It’s surprising the space you have when you’re planting practical vegetables rather than just throwing anything down.

I’ve been thinking of growing more squashes next year, I know I had about fourteen pots this year, and two in a bed, one in the ground, but what I’m considering is doing the pots again, the bed will be carrots or onions, but also to grow large squashes, larger than the acorn type that is, not some kind of monstrous pumpkin, in the furniture crate vegetable bed, catchy name, huh? That’s pretty much a given, it’ll probably be uchiki kuri, maybe the blue ones, but looking at the pea frame from this year I’m curious about a small climbing squash supported on a bamboo frame too. I’d have the space, I lost a bed of broccoli this year and still had so much other vegetables. I might complain about the space I have, but you have to understand if I won the lottery I’d buy the field behind my house and then work it myself. I couldn’t pay someone! That’d cost too much. Jack the miserly millionaire. We can dream, dear reader, dreams are at least free.

Hopefully I’ll get an idea of the time-frame for the surgeries that will be happening next year, I assume next year as things are going really fast, healing and appointments both. Thankfully the recoveries won’t be as severe as my current one, which is progressing well, and I’ll be able to get a lot ready before anything happens and I’ll be mostly able to do what I need regardless. I’ll still be careful, but the major work was done in the last two years, no more trailers of soil or half tons of stones to be hauled, even the soil is easier to work with and since I’ve prepped my pots this year with compost they should be good to go next year too. Preparations for the next surgeries will also be smoother as I have an idea of what it’ll all entail. It won’t entail my entrails! Haha….ha. I’ve horrified even myself, dear reader. I want this done, dear reader, I don’t deny I have my angry days at ever having to go through so much, but I’m grateful, just not the bogus grateful some people push. I’m human, we feel on a spectrum. Squash is an emotion, right? It’s not? Oh.

I’m glad I’m being paid by the word here…I’M NOT?! FREE??? Later.

Jack is Back!…And I’m Done

“You going to explain the Jack thing?” Nah, let’s confuse them.

Dear reader, there I was a few months ago, waiting on my surgery, the garden was nearing its ending, apparently not though looking at it now, and I had a few empty beds. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do much for the next couple of months so I very sensibly decided not to plant anything else. Then I threw all my beetroot and scallion seeds into the onion bed, then vacated of alliums, and left them. No thinning, caring, tending or even weeding. Jack is a lucky devil as everything seems to balance out for him. I decided to yank up the last of the transplanted beetroot today and then pull the mess of leaves that was the onion bed. I found the above growing happily in it. I left the leaves to cover the soil and give back for a while, but I’ve now doubly decided on my plan to finally use green manure in my garden next year. What is green manure? Well, let me tell you, not that I know much either, but this is the internet and I can feign knowledge!

I found about green manure in a gardening catalogue, hat I can’t afford to buy from, ahem, it’s basically a lot of different varieties of green leafy plants, buckwheat is one, that can be grown fast, will cover like a carpet, smothering weeds and can be dug up and reworked into the soil again, either that or leave it to the frost. Like my bed-sheet plan, but with the added bonus of adding to the soil. There’d be nothing stopping me from using this, the compost and the sheets in conjunction with one another. It’s one of the most important aspects of gardening: Renewing the soil’s nutrients. Crop rotation wouldn’t work for me as I have raised beds and planters and I’m not putting spuds in the soil, that’s just a guarantee of potatoes popping up forever and ever in the vegetable beds. You always miss one. So when I’m buying seeds I can buy a batch of green manure seeds. I’ll just have to see what would suit best.

I could try checking the soil, but I’ll just keep amending it yearly. All the plants that are leftover will either be composted or left to rot. I’ll also feed at planting time, it all pays off in the end. I hope that in time these sections will be freezer from weeds and looser and easier to work. This year’s soil has been the easiest to dig yet. So, though I keep saying it, this should be the last harvest from the garden this year. There is a cabbage that might be edible, but I’l have to leave it to chance. The parsnips are hard to judge, they’re growing very, very slowly if at all. At least I hope they are parsnips…to Google! Later, Dear Reader.


When Did This Road Smooth Out?

Yo, dear reader, it’s getting near the eight year mark of my beginning this journey, so I figured I’d ramble on way too long, alienate my audience by sheer boredom and maybe, just maybe, make a few interesting observations. I’ve told my story countless times, I’ve talked pain, time and time again, lord knows there’s enough pain in my past to pad out countless posts. That’s not why I’m here today, let the past stay the past for now. Instead I’m realising that things have really settled down. I’m at a stage where I’m now finding my healthy lifestyle more natural than what came before. It’s not to say that it isn’t difficult, but the more I push forward, the more of the old me I slough off, the less there is to hold me back. I still have my problems, too numerous and personal to spill all over this post, but I’m doing well. I feel now that I’m further away in life from what I was than the time I spent living those days. If that makes sense then bless your heart, dear reader, you’re a better me than me. To put it more coherently I’d say it’d be harder to get back to where I was than to stay where I am now.

Rub, sauce, stuffing, side.

I really think that the tipping point has been the abdominoplasty. I was held in a kind of limbo, closer to a hell, and when I finally reached that goal it gave me a push ahead, I couldn’t go on without it. It’s funny how we always feel these life changing events should greatly change a person. It’s the fantasy, or fallacy, dear reader, that people are binary, there are flawed and then suddenly perfect. A switch is flipped and you have a story to tell. I blame a lot on reality television, there are probably other reasons we assume this kind of simplistic sequence in regards emotional epochs, but I see my journey mirrored on these shows and it’s a mockery of reality, but people consume it and enjoy the simplistic empathy. Bitter? Sure, heh, but this has always been my journey, shared with whom I want, as much or as little as I see fit. It’s just the further in I have travelled the better able I am to decide how much to share and how much to hold back. It’s like this, dear reader: You think you know everything, then you realise you don’t, you peel away a layer and reveal a truth, you then have a choice: To cover it back up and deny or move forward with it as a truth, finding more and more layers. Life is complex, simple and just a mess of contradictions and confusion. Just keep scrapping at those layers, you can learn a lot from persistence. And listen, when people talk, not just what they say but why.

Rice, Fries, Tahini (With Turmeric), Jerk (Not you).

So, back to food, this is occasionally a food blog, If I can borrow a metaphor then in-regards food I’ve been layering. I started knowing nothing, but over the years I’ve  added to my understanding greatly. I’m not going to be a chef or some great foodie, dear reader, but I have kept my weight off, improved my health greatly and just generally learned more in eight years than I did in twenty two. I just kept poking at those layers, what foods could do, how they could be used, never settling on just one point. Never: This food cures that. Then repeating that endlessly. I’m flexible, I can laugh at a food in one breath and then use it in the next. I’ve had to learn from the bottom, I really knew nothing before I started eating healthy. I didn’t even know what eating healthy meant! Many people don’t, not really, they find what works for them and assume it’s universal. It’s why I’d never say to eat exactly as I do, all I offer is a guideline, this worked for me and maybe you can find something within it to help you. I think that’s vastly more helpful then insisting you adhere to my diet strictly.

I suppose I’ve managed to take the one aspect that has always haunted me, being the odd kid, and turned it into a strength. I’ve no need to rigidly follow rules that I’ve laid out because no one else has to follow them. I didn’t say I followed a diet plan and then lose face when I fail. I just went with broad strokes and did more than most would bother. I’ve started with foods I’d never eaten, used, heard of and made them mine. It’s taken a long time. The garden has helped greatly, a greater appreciation of where food comes from, and not in that general “organic” way we hear too often, an obsession with a label means you limit yourself. If organic vegetables cost too much for you to eat them regularly, then why not just eat cheap vegetables? You’re still eating vegetables and fruit, maybe they’re not perfect, but they’re still better than not having it. Cost is always a factor in these things, some people just can’t afford to eat organic everything and they can feel they’re failing if they buy other vegetables. I avoided that trap, dear reader, and I’m better for it. Buy the best when you can. If you can’t then second best is better than nothing.

I think the biggest benefit of vegetables is the bulk, no not  that kind of bulk!…although…, you can get so much vegetables cheap these days. A shop near me offers a selection that changes twice weekly, a few cents and you can stock up on so much goodness. Learning to prepare and store them is vital, but that’ll come in time. Start with vegetables and fruit, use them, read up on them, pair them with other foods, make all that you can make of them and you’ll make more of yourself in the process. I will say that if you struggle with eating vegetables then reduce your sugar intake, no need to be martyr, but the less sugar I ate the easier it was to eat vegetables. It happens to babies, right? They taste sugar and suddenly they want no part of that puree.  And, no, I’m not a sugar hater, if anything I love the stuff, I just hate how it makes me feel, so don’t mistake this as an easy thing for me to do.

I think you’ll probably face the idea that you need to be great at cooking food to eat a varied diet. You need to be able to match flavours and pair ingredients, right? That helps, sure, but I can’t do that consistently. I’ll often just jam a few different recipes together and eat whatever comes together. You’ll find what tastes suit you and which will keep you eating well and with ease. I have a spice rack that has been mixed and matched so many ways, many successful, some decent and some terrible, but I still couldn’t take a pinch of this and that make a make a meal that transcends home cooking. It’s not in me, but in using spices and herbs, nuts and seeds and so much else I’m giving myself a variegated fuel to run on. I’ll toss tahini with citrus and salt onto a spiced chicken breast, add a side and dump some sauce over it. It fills me, sustains me, keeps me healthy and well balanced, but that doesn’t mean it’s something I’d serve to someone else, but that’s the thing, dear reader, I’m not feeding anyone else and I’m not eating just to enjoy the food. So the more layers, again with the layers, what am I? An onion!?, I can add that are healthy and beneficial, as opposed to delicious and buttery, though that occasionally has a place, the better I am. The great thing about spices, herbs and simple sauces is that they won’t add anything problematic to your meals. Adding cheese or butter in vast quantities would be detrimental to any meal, but tahini? It’s great. I’d much rather eat too much broccoli than eat a small meal of fats and carbs that’d leave me unsatisfied. Many people look at what I eat in shock, but, see I understand what I’m eating. Quantity isn’t universally valuable. The greatest lesson I was taught was that a full stomach of vegetables would be the equivalent of a quarter stomach of fried chicken. You’d lose all the good of the vegetables, and sill need more to fill you. It takes time, but once you start you have all the time in the world. Just don’t go backwards!

Stuffing, again, I have a lot, Gravy with Redcurrant and Red Onion, Quinoa.

So, yeah, that’s my little ramble, dear reader, perhaps there’s been some worth in there for you, I hope so. The more I settle in life, the less there is to draw up for conversation. Hopeful I’ll always have something to talk about here, though. Okay, I’ll see you again soon.

P.S I could try to shoehorn this into the finished post, but we both know that that causes further incoherence and I’ve reached my incoherence quota for today. One thing I do want to further elaborate on is portion sizes. I think there’s a huge misunderstanding of how much, or little as is assumed, you should eat. Don’t think like that, but instead look at what you’re putting into yourself. Do you cover your vegetables in excessive oil? Cheese? Creamy sauces? Then that’s no good, learning to eat things as plainly as possible is best. I used to eat like that, big meals filled with empty calories, but even now my plate is full. Filled with good food. I’m not eating a diner that leaves me hungry because that doesn’t benefit me as I’ll compensate with food throughout the day that may not be as healthy. Just fill your plates with a mixture of foods, the rainbow rule is good here, as unprocessed and basic as possible. Look at what you’re taking in in every ingredient, not just the whole, but the component parts. A gravy is fine, right? Is it just fat and starch? Can it be made healthier is a good question to ask, instead of cutting down replace. I’ve lived the rule that for every bad thing I take out of my diet there’ll be two good things added. I just want to see the myth of starvation die out. I had to cut my calories, a lot, but I was grossly over-weight and coupled with that I was eating crap. Not just in meals, but in between, because I looked at the end result of what I was eating, a curry was just a curry, not seen as the components that made it up: Processed starches, flours, oils etc, that makes a huge difference. It’s why I’ve scattered my meals throughout this post. You can eat plenty and be healthy and happy, you just have to be smart and I really believe if you’re willing to start then you can’t be stupid. Okay now I’m done.