Monthly Archives: January 2012

Winter has arrived in Ariège


I have been trying for days to write a post about reducing the amount of plastic packing I acquire. This may be an important issue (it is to me) and there may be people who would like to read about it (or not) but it is not terribly exciting. It is boring me and I’m writing the thing.

So it is on the back burner for a day or two while I show you some nice pictures of snow and waffle on some more about sprouts and micro greens and … what’s that you say, tell us about the plastic?

I have little that is new to add to previous 52 Week Salad Challenge posts. My sprouting is most successful when I stick to mung beans, chick peas and alfalfa; my attempts this week at beetroot, broccoli and aduki beans have been a total failure, presumably due to old seed, although in the case of aduki beans I would say that frankly they are just red mung beans with attitude, which is to say I always have trouble with them, whatever I try to do. So I’ll stick to the Gillian-friendly mungs (which, strangely, are called soja in France).

My micro greens growing under the roof light are still underperforming quite spectacularly, apart from the dead ones. I am soaking some peas today which will be sown and added to the micro greens graveyard nursery tomorrow.

Winter seems to have arrived at last, due, according to France Météo, to cold winds from Japan, which makes a change from Siberia. It snowed all day yesterday, this morning the sky was clear and the temperature was -10°C, which is ‘flipping chilly’ in anyone’s book except the Siberians. As soon as the sun was up this morning I donned every bit of warm clothing I could find, grabbed my iPhone and took a few photographs of the garden. The one at the top is the kitchen terrace and beyond it the hill called Arp.

This is part of the area we call the Winter Interest garden and it was living nicely up to its name this morning.

Here in the Round Garden is a beautifully whimsical seat designed and built by Alec.

The coppiced willows look superb against the blue sky, the wavy shadows on the snow give extra interest.

These two pictures made me smile. The laurel leaves look like spoonsful of snow and the arm of the bench on the right – well I’ll leave that one to your imagination!


The Salad Challenge: you win some, you lose some

Last week, as part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge I sowed various seeds which I left under a Velux, since the potting shed (where I live, in case you haven’t read early posts) has no window sills and little spare space to store things. I thought the Velux would throw enough light onto the seed trays but clearly it doesn’t because the first seeds to germinate, probably celery, (label things, Gillian, you never remember which is which!) are now tiny seed leaves on very tall and floppy stems. What I forgot to take into account is that the Velux is north facing, with a tall old oak tree only ten metres away. So it’s available light is not good and the poor old seedlings had gone in search of more!

Bemoaning my leggy seedlings on Twitter I received this advice from Alys Fowler:


For anyone not used to Twitter’s succinct style that is that I could try repotting the seedlings, burying their leggy stems below the new compost level or, alternatively, just adding more compost to the tray they were in. I would never have thought of doing that. Thank you, Alys.

I would like to say I tried it and it worked, but I didn’t. By then they were so leggy and floppy and the seed leaves were so tiny I was pretty certain I would never transplant them in one piece and I couldn’t add more compost because I had sown another variety of seeds in the other half of the container (another habit I really should break) and they hadn’t germinated yet. So, a failure on the celery front, but some great advice for another time. You win some, you lose some.

Today, however, saw a success. Lunch comprised hummus made with chickpeas that I had sprouted plus a salad of pea and broad bean shoots and a few shallot leaves, all picked from the plants over-wintering outside plus a few surviving mizuna leaves. Most winters these would not be growing in January and the mizuna would be long dead, but we have had nearly three weeks of clear blue skies and temperatures most days get close to double figures for a few hours at least.


I was delighted with the hummus and preferred it to the usual way of using cooked peas. I blitzed the chickpeas in the blender, but they were still quite coarsely chopped. I can’t give you a recipe because hummus is one of those ‘a bit of this, a bit of that, taste it, adjust’ sort of things. Well, in my kitchen it is. But, since there is no cooking liquid to moisten it with, I probably added more olive oil and tahini than usual. The conversation at lunch went like this:

Alec: What exactly am I eating?
Me: Hummus
Alec: Then why does it have sweet corn in it?

I could see what he meant, instead of the usual chickpea mush, the chunky bits did look like rather anaemic sweet corn. I found the texture more interesting than usual and the flavour was certainly more intense. I usually add quite a lot of seasoning to liven it up, this time it didn’t seem to need it. I shall certainly make it this way from now on.

Now, what on earth are we going to eat next week?

Brussels are not the only sprouts

I have signed up for the 52 Week Salad Challenge over on the Veg Plotting blog. The idea is to grow or forage salad ingredients every week of the year. This has been on my ‘Must Do’ list ever since I arrived in France, but, while during the summer it is easy, my good intentions slide quickly away as the nights grow shorter and colder. So I welcome this as an opportunity to try new things and learn what other people are doing.


If you want to read about the challenge you will find the first explanatory post here. You can also follow our progress on Twitter via the #saladchat hash tag.

My contribution so far to the challenge is to sow seeds of mixed salad leaves, spinach and celery. These are sitting on a shelf just under a Velux where it should be both bright and warm. In addition I have restarted sprouting, something I have done intermittently for many years. For anyone who doesn’t know about sprouting there is an excellent introduction to it here on the Veg Plotting blog.


I have tended to be rather conservative in my choice of seeds to sprout, using mainly chick peas, mung beans and alfalfa. Chick peas are probably the easiest of all to do, being ready to eat within 2 days. At this stage the shoots are tiny but, in my opinion, at their best. The taste is like pea pods. I also prefer mung beans when the shoots are tiny, not like the Chinese bean sprouts. The sprouts of the tiny-seeded alfalfa, in contrast, need to be much longer when harvested. These are the ones in the jar closest to the camera in this picture


and they have been growing for three days. I will probably leave them for a further two days. My favourite way to serve them is this salad, which probably came from Rose Elliot’s ‘Not Just A Load Of Old Lentils’ (which, sadly, I no longer have):

Carrot and Alfalfa Sprout Salad

Mix together equal quantities of grated carrot and alfalfa sprouts. Make a vinaigrette using grape seed oil and orange juice, add a small amount of acacia honey, mix and pour over the salad.

The other jar in the picture contains fenugreek seeds, which is a new one for me. We ate some at lunch and I found them a little underwhelming. But I do have a cold so perhaps the flavour couldn’t get through. I shall be trying other new sprouts such as lentils, beetroot and broccoli in the coming weeks. Sprouting is the simplest way to put something fresh on your plate. They are quick to reach harvest and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty. Why not try it for yourself?

Wordless Wednesday : A birthday stroll along the Champ de Mars