Kitchen Chemistry

kitchen chemistry.jpgHave you ever wondered about all the science that happens in a busy kitchen? Raising agents added to cakes, the fermentation of wine or bread, the amazement on a child’s face when you add baking powder to hot syrup to make honeycomb. I’ve always loved making potions, I was that child who would stuff rose petals into jam jars in the hope of making perfume my mother would want to wear and I never tired of pouring vinegar onto bicarbonate of soda to make volcanoes.

I studied chemistry (failed the A level – like I failed most of my A levels – thank goodness for night school and second chances!) and I’m still fascinated by the alchemy that happens in my kitchen. We don’t often think of it as chemistry, but so much science can be learnt at the kitchen table. More recently, I’ve begun to feel like I need a degree in chemistry just to decipher those ingredients lists – even the ones on the back of my “eco friendly” cleaning products. I have a growing unease about just how “friendly” those products are – and the difficulty in disposing of the packaging irritates me. So, I’ve begun to rediscover some of the old cleaning methods I used when we were to poor to buy the supermarket goodies and Mr T complained the bathroom cleaner made his asthma worse.  I’ve pulled a few old favourites out of my kitchen cupboard, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, citric acid, essential oils are all store cupboard essentials here, so why am I not putting them to better use?. My Nanna used to say that you could clean anything if you had enough elbow grease, and she’s right. All these modern cleaning aids, the air fresheners, the silicone polishes, the no rinse shower sprays etc. are meant to make the task of cleaning and maintaining a home easier and speedier. Do they?

A quick survey of the top shelf in my kitchen revealed a scary collection of sprays, creams, cleaners and scourers that I’ve accumulated over the years (does any home really need four  different kinds of leather cleaner / conditioner?)  we even have a bottle of carpet cleaner – even though we have no carpets – just wooden floors! Some of them haven’t been used for years and some of them don’t even contain their original products (the very expensive eco friendly widow spray I bought because it promised to smell of lavender, but didn’t) was soon refilled with my old favourite white vinegar and lavender essential oil, which does a better job). I’m ashamed to say I have a bookshelf full of books on natural home making, recipes for window cleaners, beeswax polish and advice on creating a natural home. They need to start making themselves useful and I’m determined to start mixing up a few chemistry experiments once we’re back from our summer holiday. I already make my own hand salves and lotions, and I will pour a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda onto a burnt pan to make it easier to clean (especially since we banned the plastic sponge scourers). So it shouldn’t be that hard to start whipping up a few cleaning and washing potions?

I want to rediscover the joy of stirring potions and making liquids turn to solids. Yesterday, I dusted off those books and began to make a list of all the things I need to buy (turns out not much) to make my own furniture polish, shower spray, floor cleaner and air fresheners. I’ll share the recipes and results here so you can join in too if you like.

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If you’re interested, some of the books on my shelf are: 1001 Country Househld Hints, Sloe Gin and Beeswax (definitely worth seeking out for the jam, cordial and cheese recipes and Pia Tryde’s lovely photography)  and Rachelle Blondell’s  collection of traditional recipes and remedies Forgotten Ways for Modern Days. You might also want to start hoarding your jam jars, glass bottles and empty spray bottles…

Photo credit: Brooke Lark

5 Plastic Free Shop Swaps

plastic free ocado shopBack in January I wrote a post complaining that shopping online was thwarting my attempts to reduce the amount of plastic coming into my home. Several people challenged me to “try harder” and so I’m pretty proud to say that our general household waste bin has only been emptied once since January and the plastics recycling bin has only been emptied twice. In fact, the straight to landfill  “black bin”, the one that just seems to be full of crisp packets, plastic bags from supermarket veg and non recyclable plastic trays was emptied by mistake – only half full, our local refuse collectors thought they were “doing me a favour” by coming down the drive and collecting it on Tuesday. They though we’d forgotten about it and acted out of kindness. So, now the black bin sits empty and I’m darn sure I’m going to do my best to keep it that way.

So, what are these simple steps I’ve discovered to maintain my addiction to a weekly online supermarket shop, but still cut my plastic? Here are my top five, in  no particular order.

  1. Choose cardboard over plastic food containers. Barilla pasta comes in cardboard packets, with no plastic liner. There’s a small cello window which can’t be recycled. But it’s easily removed before recycling or composting. I’ve also found several companies sell boxes of risotto rice, our favourite is Riso Gallo carnarolli, which is stocked by Ocado. Just by making these two simple swaps we’ve cut our plastic significantly.  (Gluten free foodies might be interested to know that the Barilla GF pasta is a pretty good substitute, especially for pasta bakes).
  2. Choose jars and tins over packets and pouches. Just about every pulse and vegetable is available in a can or a glass jar. We use lots of “ready to eat” chick peas, kidney beans and veg. Metal, like glass,  is easy to recycle. Look for olive oil in glass bottles instead of plastic and ditch that squeezy ketchup for a good old fashioned bottle ( a long handled spoon or a knife is great for scooping out the last dregs if you forget to store them upside down).
  3. Cardboard cotton buds. I know “that photo” of the seahorse wrapped around a cotton bud is hard to unsee, but it might surprise you that most of the big brands switched to cardboard cores for their cotton buds some time ago and they’re easy to find in most supermarkets. Remember to bin them (or chuck in the compost) – don’t flush them!
  4. Fruit and veg in plastic trays and poly bags are pretty hard to avoid if you shop online. But at least these organic tomatoes came in a cardboard tray that can be thrown in my compost bin or recycled – I know, the wrapper  is non recyclable in my area, but it’s one less black plastic food tray – so I’m calling that a win. In addition, the bunch of garlic came with a biodegradable label and tie.
  5. Not pictured here, but one of the easiest switches is possibly to ditch those plastic washing pods that laundry detergent manufacturers are so desperate for us all to buy. Like most of us, I was suckered into buying a box of “pods” when they were on special offer. They are very convenient, but I’ve switched back to a bulk box of non bio powder. The cardboard box is easy to compost or recycle. I don’t use fabric conditioner, so there’s been no need to look for an alternative to those plastic bottle or pouches.

These simple swaps have made a huge difference to our plastic waste and to be honest, we’ve not noticed a difference in our spending. We’ve also stopped buying liquid soap for guests. We use bars of “hard soap” and for visitors who don’t like the thought of sharing soap I’ve been refilling the old hand wash dispenser with a home  made version (I’ll share the recipe soon).

I’ve started making a note of the things we were already doing, and which have become second nature. I’m going to start sharing these more regularly.  It’s almost 10 years since the Guardian featured our “Green Lifestyle” . The simple steps we were taking then to reduce our energy consumption, use environmentally friendly cleaning products and cut our waste should have become the norm for all households. It’s a sad  fact that they haven’t. I want to write more posts about the changes we’ve made over the past 20 years, partly to celebrate our achievements, but also to show how easy it can be to shop and live more thoughtfully, yet with little effort. I’m pretty sure we’ve also saved money, but that’s hard to evaluate because I’ve always been parsimonious (posh speak for mean with my money!)

Manufacturers continue to bombard us with adverts for stuff we don’t need to solve problems we never really had in the first place. They play on our feelings of guilt and self esteem (smelly laundry? buy deodorising capsules. Embarassed by bad smells in the bathroom? Squirt your toilet bowl with special potions before you poop and emerge without a red face. And worried about nasty germs? Coat every surface in your house with antibacterial sprays). Just by refusing to buy into their marketing, you’ll save money and reduce your environmental impact.

It’s not easy, I know. But every step  is a step a step in the right direction.  My simple swaps are just the start. We’ve a long road ahead, but at least we’ve begun.

 

Rhubarb and Ginger Gin (a recipe)

peak rhubarb.jpgWe’ve reached “peak rhubarb”, that point in the season when we no longer look forward to a rhubarb crumble, even my favourite rhubarb fool (made with stewed rhubarb whipped into freshly made custard) no longer appeals. But my rhubarb patch is at the top of its game, huge pink stalks appear almost daily. There’s jam of course (rhubarb and ginger is a rather fine jam), but we’ve grown tired of the huge number of jars that lurk in the fridge as we don’t eat enough of the stuff to justify making more than a couple of jars. Cordials are a good option, and for the last few years I have made lots of this for quaffing on summer evenings. A couple of years ago, someone gave me a bottle of Edinburgh Gin’s Rhubarb and Ginger Liqueur and that sparked an idea to make my own flavoured gin.

Let’s hope we’re heading into a long, warm summer. The kind where we’ll sit out on the patio or in the park until late in the evening. Sip a cheeky glass of something in good company and spend lazy weekends watching the world go by. That’s my kind of slow summer. But just in case we find ourselves in the middle of a wet August huddled around the BBQ and in need of something to lift our spirits, this gin recipe might be just the thing!

Many of you will be familiar with sloe, damson or strawberry gin. Rhubarb however might be new to you. It’s a great make for summer, quick and incredibly easy. If you make it now, it will be ready to take along to summer BBQs in July and August – much tastier (and a little more original) than a green salad or a bottle of Rose! The sharp notes of ginger don’t play nicely with tonic (at least not in my opinion), so experiment with different mixers or serve over ice – in moderation of course!

You’ll need a large jar with a wide neck, caster sugar, rhubarb (the pinker the better), a small piece of fresh ginger and a bottle of gin (cheap and cheerful, no fancy botanicals necessary). Whenever I make flavoured gin, brandy or vodka, I tend to judge the quantities by eye, but if you stick to proportions of 1 part sugar to 2 parts fruit and 4 parts alcohol that should give a sweet enough concoction. (so for this batch I’m using roughly 250g sugar, 500g rhubarb and 1 litre of gin). Pink rhubarb will impart a pretty colour, while green stalks will produce a more amber colour, either way it tastes delicious.

rhubarb and ginger cordial shot

Roughly chop the rhubarb and slice the ginger thinly (no need to peel),  pop them in your jar and pour on the sugar, stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add your gin and screw the lid on. Leave in a dark, cool place for a week, turning the jar every day so the sugar dissolves. Then leave it alone for two more weeks. Strain through a jelly bag or coffee filter paper. Leave it overnight so that you extract as much gin as possible. Bottle, label and drink neat over ice, diluted with soda or lemonade. Of course, you can leave out the ginger if that thought does nothing for your tastebuds. You could add a vanilla pod instead or just go for straight rhubarb. Just as an aside, in the photo above, the bottle contains rhubarb cordial made with the late summer green rhubarb stalks, while the glass contains an early batch of gin flavoured with the young pink stalks.

For a non alcoholic option, a rhubarb and ginger cordial is a delicious choice. I’ll share some of my favourite fruit cordial recipes here over the summer, but if you can’t wait then you’ll find a great Rhubarb syrup recipe in Wild Cocktails by Lottie Muir, or try Sarah Raven’s Rhubarb Cordial, which you’ll find here. 

Also, it’s not too late to go foraging for elderflowers to make a batch of Elderflower Champagne, you’ll find my recipe by clicking here!

 

The Garden in Early May

I am pruning the Dogwood, well some if them at least. I like to leave some until after they flower, although I know  that if I cut them back now I can plunge the cuttings in the soil to make new plants and the remaining stems with be deep red next autumn. I juggle what I know to be “gardening lore”, with my gut instinct to enjoy what I have in the moment. The air is filled with the buzz and hum of insects. There are dozens of orange tip butterflies, I think they must have recently hatched as I’ve never seen so many in one day. They won’t sit still long enough to photograph, which is frustrating and doesn’t stop me trying (and failing). There are dozens of St Mark’s Flies (named because they allegedly hatch on St Marks Day, which is 25th April), they’re not the most glamorous pollinator in the garden, but they certainly are the most numerous!

Last week the farmer ploughed the field and sowed seeds, this week there are dozens of wood pigeons feasting on the fresh young tips of seedlings. They swoop and soar overhead, occasionally landing, picking the green tips from the soil. As I write this, I can see twenty or thirty of them, field walking like overly keen metal detectorists, their eyes scanning the ground as they avoid each other’s patch of earth.

apple blossom

The apple tree, planted as a pip over 20 years ago is heavy with pink blossom, I hope this means a good crop of apples. It only began to bear fruit a couple of years ago and to our delight the apples are sweet and edible! The tree has grown wild, never pruned it has begun to twist and turn, a few branches are starting to rub against each other and I have resolved to read up how best to care for it (probably too late, but in the spirit of “always learning” I shall borrow a book on fruit trees from the library or fall down a rabbit hole of internet research).

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All our  trees have burst into life, even the hornbeam hedge is greening up. Every year it slowly progresses from left to right, the shady end always waiting until mid May before bursting into life.  The hazel trees should have been coppiced, but we forgot / didn’t get round to it / didn’t want to risk losing a nut crop and so they have been left to grow tall and spindly. Some of the  ones we have coppiced are now a mass of thick young stems, a green hedge, the branches we cut are supporting sweet peas and criss crossed over the veg patch to deter birds from early veg.

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The whole garden seems ripe with promise, the clematis montana has flowered, the aquilegia that self seeded every spare patch of earth are  bringing some much needed colour, this year we have deep crimson, a pale pink and the deepest purple. There is also a patch  with creamy petals with the palest pink tips which are yet to open. They will either be gorgeous or a sad disappointment. You never know what you’ll get with these self seeders (which of course is part of their appeal).

The past two weekends have been warm enough to sit out doors, which has annoyed the robin. He wants us to turn over the earth, revealing grubs and young slugs. Instead we sit drinking mugs of tea, or sipping wine. The grass needs to be mowed, slugs picked off young green plants, the last of the leeks have been left to seed. They look like the palest cream alliums and are so beautiful I always leave a few to go to seed. There air is filled with birdsong, and I can’t help being filled with joy and optimism every time I step outside – except of course the day after the slugs demolished my freshly planted lettuce – on those days even I struggle to love the pesky creatures!

The Undersong

35711401054_178e4796a5_cLost, forgotten words fascinate me. At university I took a course in dialect maps, tracing the origin and spread of local words around the counties of England. I had mentally collected lists of local words for  wild flowers for years as we moved around the country  and later  I collected words about the landscape and nature. My childhood fascination with collective nouns grew into a love of words that describe the landscape and it was at university that I first heard the word “murmuration”,  it remains one of my favourite words. After my last post about the things we don’t see, a follower reminded me of the books by Robert Macfarlane, he writes beautifully about words and landscapes and he’s definitely worth seeking out. “Landmarks” sits on my bedside table, it’s the book I open when I just need a few minutes to lose myself or need to decompress after a busy day, it’s filled with lists of lost words and descriptions of our landscape. Hard to categorise or describe – just find it and read it!

At the moment I am besotted with the word “undersong”, the subtle, underlying sounds of the landscape. As I sit at my desk I can hear the birds, often so loud they drown out the everyday sounds of home.  Mr T, who normally works from home has made a trip to his company office today, I miss the hum of his computers, the occasional ring that signals the start of a skype call, the huffing and ho hums as he scrolls through emails. His chair creaks as he pushes the wheels back and forth over the carpet and occasionally a tune will drift down the hallway as he plays music to calm and relax the stressful parts of his working day. This is my undersong, not the poetic things you imagined?

You were expecting me to write about the distant call of rooks, the grinding of a tractor as it ploughs the field, the lowing of cows, maybe the song of a blackbird? No, I hear all of these things of course. But underneath, in the background there are the sounds of life and community. The house sounds eerie and empty, so I step outside. Our new neighbours are renovating the house before they move in, for days (weeks), there have been builders calling to each other, scraping, sanding, fixing, painting. The “Hello there” of neighbours passing by – none of us can wait much longer for the big reveal – so we’re all being ultra friendly in the home of an invitation to peek indoors (I’ve already had mine!). A few doors down a dog yaps, excitedly greeting everyone who walks past; our regular postman waves  as he pushes envelopes through the door  and calls out – “parcel on the step Trace” – which means the arrival of more yarn or maybe bike parts. If I close my eyes, I know exactly where I am. I am home and feel grounded in my soundscape.

I’ve written a lot recently about the things I see, not so much about the sounds or smells that are familiar. Maybe it’s because Mr T isn’t here today that I’m more aware of the sounds that are missing, the sounds I didn’t even realise I heard.

The Wonder of Things You Never See

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The sky, this morning. Perfect blue and fluffy clouds!

How often do you stop and look up at the sky? While I was hanging out the washing today, I looked up and saw a perfect blue sky. Such a beautiful sight, but so often overlooked as we walk about, head down or looking at the road ahead. It seemed to be such a perfect moment, the farmer was busy ploughing the field that backs onto our garden, being followed by a flock of black headed gulls, swooping and calling as he turned over the earth. I ran inside to grab my camera, such a beautiful sky deserves to be remembered.

This morning I heard my first cuckoo of the year.  At first I thought I had misheard, but no, definitely a cuckoo. I’ve never seen one, I only recognise it’s song (actually, that’s not strictly true, we once watched a female blackbird trying to feed a cuckoo fledgling). Now that the cuckoo is back, it is definitely spring. We are woken every morning by the dawn chorus, I lie in bed listening to the blackbird, I know it’s him sitting high among the cherry blossom. I don’t need to see him, I know he’s there, competing with robins and sparrows to be heard.

I was walking on the edge of  Delamere Forest, one of the nicer parts, filled with native trees, not the tall, sparse Scots Pine. A robin was serenading me, a woodpecker was drilling, high in the trees. So many birds and yet I couldn’t see any of them. I felt sorry for the posse of young mums pushing their strollers, wrangling toddlers, too busy discussing haircuts and last night’s TV in shrill voices to notice the lone cherry tree covered in the deepest pink blossom (they walked straight past it, not even pausing or glancing in its direction), the runner plugged into head phones couldn’t hear the birdsong that made me stop in my tracks. He had no idea the smile on my face was because of that first cuckoo.

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Tiny thing on leaves – how often do we walk past without even seeing them?

I began to think about all the things we know are there, but hardly ever see. The tiny insects we miss, the first buds on the trees (one minute they are all bare branches, the next they’re bursting into leaf). I realised how many birds I recognise by their song or from the briefest of glimpses (a jay, swooping n front of me as I drove along a country lane, a kingfisher, spied from a bridge as we fed the ducks, listening to the song of a nightingale when were on holiday last summer).

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A small patch of bluebells by the edge of the car park.

I took my camera out, to try and capture the overlooked, the missed and the ignored. A few pretty snaps that capture just another spring day. Nothing special, no rare bird sightings or beautifully captured shots, just nature at her mundane best. These are the moments in my day that are special, only appreciated when you slow down, take time to listen and look for  the small things.

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Comma butterfly, sunning herself.

 

Sparrowhawk!

sparrowhawk.jpgWe set off early, returning from our wonderful holiday in Wales (more to follow). It’s never easy to come home after a good holiday, especially when you really wanted to stay, enjoy the solitude and the scenery.

We unloaded the car, I made a scratch lunch of cheese on toast and as I walked from kitchen to living room  a familiar shape caught my eye. All of a sudden I knew I was happy to be home, content to be back in my own surroundings and even though I loved our short break in the Welsh countryside, home really is where the heart is – especially when the birds welcome you by posing long enough to allow you to grab your camera and hurriedly point and press!

The Things We Overlook

dandelion.jpgOn Easter Sunday I spotted the first dandelion flower of the year. We’ve been picking the leaves for salads for a couple of weeks ; along with  sorrel and the early chives they have supplemented the shop bought salad I’ve been buying since we cut the last of our home grown lettuces. Looking at Instagram I often feel that the commonplace and the ordinary are overlooked in favour of more exciting, glamorous gardening achievements. I see photos of gardeners showing off the first blossom from their almond trees or the luscious fruits of lemons in their enormous heated greenhouses, of course I’m a little jealous, if only finances would stretch to a new greenhouse or a larger plant buying budget! My own precious garden moments are more mundane, but they are still thrilling to me. Even the first dandelion flower, knowing it is one of many wild plants  that I can pick and eat for free gives me joy and a sense of achievement – much more than buying expensive plants from glossy catalogues or plant fairs – and then posting photos of them online!

Other mundane moments of the pas week include spotting a buzzard sitting high in the branches of the silver birch as I chopped veg for tea. Over the next few evenings I found myself watching for him, discovering  ragged piles of pigeon and magpie feathers just outside the garden gate. We ate our first nettle risotto of the year, picked leeks (only the smallest are left now, but oh so sweet after the frosts and snow) and unwrapped the fig tree from its winter fleece to discover new shoots and small fruits that have survived the winter.

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The robin is growing bolder, sitting still long enough for me to take a few photos of him on the fence. He still won’t come and sit beside me, but he will hop down and take food from the ground beside me. The pigeons are courting, one of them is sitting on a nest, a ragged affair in next door’s damson tree and the female blackbird is busy pulling up worms. A flock ( is there a collective noun I’m not aware of) of siskins descended on the garden, the females  gorging on the sunflower seeds in the bird feeder, happy to jostle the goldfinches away (collective noun – a “charm”, or my favourite “a troubling” of goldfinches – thank you google).

I’m reading “The Wood”, by John Lewis – Stemple, the story of a year in the life of the flora and fauna that live in the small wood near his home in Herefodshire. Like his earlier books (“The Running Hare” and “Meadowland”), this is a beautiful imagining* of life in the English countryside. The wood he writes about covers just three and a bit acres, but is filled with birds, ancient trees, wild flowers and creatures that many of us know exist, but seldom see, He spots badgers, a vixen carrying food home to her cubs, migrating birds and insects, describing them in simple language and making me want to walk in the woods at dusk!

Much of my life is ordinary, mundane and lacking excitement. But, the sudden joy of spotting that buzzard in the tree, the siskins, or last year’s early dusk encounter with a couple of boxing hares  spark feelings of joy and gratitude. Reading The Wood I feel lucky and blessed to live here, to be able to find time to just sit, look out of my window and see all that my small Cheshire garden has to offer. I feel I am part of a wider community of nature lovers and people who appreciate the ordinary and the every day. Look out of your window, look up as you walk along the pavements and find moments of joy in the world around you.

I share photos of the things I spot from my garden, walks in the wood or snatched moments of excitement in an otherwise dull day in my Instagram stories – check out the “highlights” on my profile to see them.

 

  • In an author statement from the The Running Hare, the book is  described as a “substantially non fictional account based on the life, experiences and recollections of the author … except in minor respects .. the contents of this book are true”.

Notes From a Small Garden

My new garden robin.jpgWe have a new Robin, I spotted him on Tuesday. He’s much more cautious than our “old friend” who has kept us company all winter. This new visitor is smaller and as I approached the bird feeder he pressed his back against the fence-  wanting to edge away –  but  also hopeful that I was bringing snacks. I sprinkled a few sunflower seeds on the ground at my feet, he waited until my back was turned before hopping down to seize the plumpest and flying into the apple tree’s branches. I wonder how long it will be before he grows as bold as his friend (pictured above), who would hop down and follow me from the back door to the bin where I store bird food,  then scold me if I didn’t throw a few treats his way before making my way to the hazel tree where I hang the feeders.

I feel sad that we have lost our “old friend”, all winter there have been three robins visiting the garden, but only one has become bold enough to sit beside me as I drink my early morning cuppa on the garden bench. The others kept their distance. I wonder if this is a sign that spring really is here and soon they will start competing for territory, no longer keeping the winter truce which has allowed them all equal access to the food we put out for them every morning. I wonder what happened to my friendly robin? Maybe he failed to spot the sparrow hawk that visits each lunch time, or came off worse in a scuffle with another male. Perhaps (and I hope not), he was caught by the pesky cat “no tail”, who prowls around looking for  birds to toy with –  but not eat – he’s too well fed to make a proper meal of them. He often left them, shocked (or worse, needing to be put out of their misery) on the back step, but as he has learnt he’s not welcome here, he prefers the hidden space behind the shed where he can bask in the sunshine unseen from the house and lick his lips as he hopes for easy prey.

This new robin is quite tiny, his plumage bright red and his eyes beady black. Today he sat and watched me as I added some veg peelings to the compost bin, edging closer as I searched through the top layers, hoping to see signs of the brandling worms that have been buried deep over winter. Soon they will make their way to the top layers, their bodies entwined as they respond to the warmer weather, a writhing mass of breeding worms that turn my garden waste into rich, black gold to mulch the veg patch. This robin hasn’t learnt what a rich source of food can be found in the compost yet, it won’t be long before he’s hopping in and out. The wooden lid doesn’t fit properly and the older, wiser birds know that it’s full of meaty morsels, slugs, beetles and grubs that have made their home in the warm, moist compost.

male blackbird

As I walk back to the house, the blackbird calls to me and as I turn to listen, the tiny pink flower of the hazel catches my eye. It’s the first time this year I’ve spotted them in our garden. I’ve been too busy rushing in and out of the house, avoiding the cold blasts, the rain and even snow this winter. I have photographed them on my walks, but this is the first from my own garden.

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Standing at the door, I watch out new robin squabble with the hedge sparrows and scuffle under the feeders for dropped seed with a couple of gold finches and a  thrush that turns over leaves looking for snails. We may only have a small garden, but on mornings like these it has as much to offer as any nature reserve and I head back indoors grateful to be home from my London trip , and not even grumpy any more that I was woken by these same birds singing their  dawn chorus at 5.30am!

If you want to know more about the robin, or the rest of our common garden birds, a good place to start is the RSPB website.

Outside My Window…

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Clematis “Winter Beauty” outside my kitchen window

I love my garden in winter. I know it’s meant to be bleak and bare, the season where nothing ever happens; but on cold winter mornings I find myself drawn to the garden. A brisk run to fill bird feeders or pick up windblown silver birch twigs for kindling often turns into a slow meander as I stop to admire the low winter sun shining through the waxy flowers of a late clematis, or listen to a song thrush.

Small pleasure, finding joy in a busy day. These garden moments remind me that even in the depths of winter, there is a reason to be outdoors. Of course, there are the days when I am forced to sit inside, looking out, when aching joints, headaches or just the effort of meeting a deadline mean that I must sit at my desk. On these mornings I sit eating breakfast, my camera beside me.  It may be just a quick snap of the robin, a glimpse of a snowdrop or the rare sight of a jay swooping low over the fields that catches my eye as I watch, but capturing these snatched moments has become a part of my daily routine.

When I do step outside, I realise that nature has accepted me. The robin sits waiting for me to scatter a few seeds on a tree stump, scolding me if I forget. The blackbirds no longer scurry away, but turn their heads towards me as if to say good morning. The crows and wood pigeons stare down from the tall branches, no longer startled or flying away. I am no longer just a garden observer, I am a part of this garden and just as I have shaped this outdoor space, it has shaped me. Offering joy, solace, optimism and comfort.

I have lots of deadlines approaching, the new book is nearing completion and I promise myself, that once this book is done I shall take a much needed break, to spend mornings exploring the garden, afternoons in the woods and evenings spent watching the sunset. For now, I must be grateful for these snatched moments, the beautiful last days of winter.

You can find more snapshots of my daily dose of the outdoors on my Instagram feed  click on the icon in the right hand column to see more.