Saturday, 9 December 2017

Requiem for an allotment

Just when you thought that the news couldn't get any more grim, what with the horror of Brexit and Trump updates being farted out into the ecosystem on a daily basis, here I am to throw another chainsaw of misery into the spokes. We've given up our allotment.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Managing fine without us

It can come as a bit of a surprise, sometimes, to find out that life goes on without you. Since the arrival of our daughter a couple of months back, the allotment has basically been sacked off; after getting home from work I'm far keener to see Zosia than I am to look at vegetables. I had assumed that the place would be hoaching with weeds and those crops we had planted would be bearing the scars of their neglect. A couple of brief recent visits showed neither of these assumptions to in fact be the case.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Restaurant Review: Harissa Kitchen, Sandyford, Newcastle upon Tyne

A few words of praise here then for a place we've frequented a bunch of times since it opened last year, and always enjoyed. And, as if that recommendation wasn't enough to have you high-tailing it over to Sandyford by itself, it's also somewhere you can go to eat out and enjoy a clean conscience. You see, all profits from Harissa Kitchen are ploughed back into the parent charity (or Community Interest Company, to be more precise) Food Nation, who do lots of very worthy and worthwhile things around food education.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

How to get things to grow #1: How we sow

The allotment chat on this blog functions pretty much as a diary of what we've grown, rather than how we've grown it. However, we've been doing this for a bunch of years now, and have over that time accumulated enough frustration and fortune to learn a few lessons in growing veg which I thought might be useful to share. I'm not claiming any pro-level knowledge here, but, particularly if you're just considering growing a few things for the first time I reckon I've got a few easy tips that might ease your path and hopefully avoid the type of early-career horticultural disaster that might put you off before you've properly gotten started. All of this is stuff we've learned from running a couple of decent sized allotments, but the principles apply even if you're just wanting to sow a few pots of herbs.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Just me and the pigeons

After having wondered out loud last week whether impending parenthood might make keeping the allotment going a bit of mission, this week brought the answer: it'll be fine! In less than a couple of hours of doing some actual work I managed to dig over and weed two full patches, rake up and dispose of a bunch of the straw that had sat, along with the manure it came with, on top of the soil all winter and even harvest some of the bits of last year's veg we had missed/deliberately left in the ground for just such an occasion.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Tabula Rasa

I took a quick stroll up to the allotment today, mostly just to check it was still there, what with it having been a good few weeks since I last made the 10 minute hike up, and there having been some meaningful gusts of wind of late. Apart from a couple of upturned compost bins and a bit of damage to a fence that will need replacing at some point anyhow, things were basically in order, which is great.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Restaurant Review: Rogano, Glasgow

What is a restaurant for, anyway? I mean, obviously it's somewhere that you expect to leave less hungry than you arrived, but other than that: what? Somewhere to spend time with people you know while prying - politely, of course - on people you don't? Somewhere to be looked after a bit, to experience the polished performance that is the result of so much unseen rehearsal?  And perhaps somewhere to escape from the mundane thrum of the everyday by dabbling in a little bit of fantasy, a moreish slice of romantic nostalgia? All of these are what I think the restaurant Rogano, just off Glasgow's Buchanan Street is designed to do, and why the idea of eating there appealed to me so much. It didn't quite work out.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Restaurant review: The Ubiquitous Chip, Ashton Lane, Glasgow

Glasgow might not be the most obvious destination for an anniversary getaway (nine years!), but being the trend-bucking radicals that we are, that's where we just had ours. It was all very lovely and everything and I'll maybe write a post about some of the jolly capers we got up to, but just for the time being let's have a review of one of its finer restaurants shall we? Alright!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Restaurant Review: Baba Yaga, Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne

I have a half-arsed theory about why, despite there being getting on for a million Poles living in these isles (Polish is now, having overtaken Indian, the most common non-UK nation of birth for people living in Blighty) our streets are heaving with skleps, but you see scarcely any Polish restaurants about. Polish cooking is, according to my limited but not insignificant experience, best suited to the home; its canonical dishes are full of comfort and slow-cooked warmth. If one of the attractions of eating out is getting to try stuff you wouldn't bother to do yourself, there's not much sense in going out for the same food your babcia taught you to make.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Lovely things to do #7: Take a wintery wander along Whitburn Cliffs

The intermission between Christmas and the New Year has been characterised by some first-rate climatic conditions; it's been as mild as supermarket cheddar, and even when it's been a bit chilly it's been as bright as an annoyingly precocious child. We've tried to make the most of it by squeezing in a couple of #lovelythingstodo, including the trip to the coast I will henceforth relate. Our normal brine-tinged haunts include Tynemouth, South Shields and the Northumberland coast up around Amble and Alnmouth. Where could we go for a change? I know: Sunderland!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Festive allotment check-up

Don't get me wrong, Christmas is brilliant, obviously. Going home and drinking tonnes of booze and forcing a week's worth of calories down the chute in twenty four hours and then meeting other people that you don't see all that often for more drinks and food and then seeing some of the outlying relatives during which why not have a bit of that leftover cake, and so on, and on and on: it's all brilliant. However, I'm also quite a big fan of the few days - if you're lucky enough to be excused from work - after which all major duties have been completed and set-piece meals consumed and you can just sort of potter about, tidy up and hunker down for a few days, punctuated only by Charlie Brooker's end-of-year thingy.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Lovely things to do #6: Go to Jesmond Food Market

Today's #lovelythingtodo comes with a side order of mea culpa and is recommended to be enjoyed while wearing thermal undies, multiple layers or whatever your favoured personal tactics are for keeping warm in circumstances which can described as nippy.

First, the guilty admission/apology: this was the first Jesmond Food Market I've ever been to. I know. As someone from round these parts with a healthy and ongoing interest in the local comestibles scene, this isn't good enough. Hopefully the following enthusiastic words, and encouragement that you yourself head along will go some way to rectifying the situation. Stood on Armstrong Bridge yesterday, enjoying what meagre heat the milky afternoon sun was kicking out, I tried to figure out why I'd never made it before.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Lovely things to do #5: Go to Newcastle Allotment Show

An empty fairground, just before the show opened.
Today's lovely thing to do, is an oldie but a goodie. It's nearly three months since we went to the 15th annual Newcastle Allotment Show, but if you think about it we're actually closer to the next one that you'll be able to attend than we would be if I'd written this up the next day, so basically this post is still relevant and totally worth me writing up. You may never have been to an allotment show before in which case you are totally missing out. Let the pictures of insane veg commence!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Restaurant Review: Sunday lunch at St Mary's Inn, Morpeth

The first thing you'll want to know about St Mary's is that it's not, despite what the website says, in Morpeth, or not quite, anyhow. The second is that merely boshing the postcode into your sat nav may, depending on your model and how recently you have updated it, result in disaster. Kasia is from this neck of the Northumbrian woods so we had a head start. When the Garmin wanted to send us down a one-track lane in entirely the wrong direction we knew better. Pro tip: locate the place on your choice of mapping application and guide yourself in using that.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Restaurant Review: Chick 'n' Sours, Seven Dials, London

London! We were up to our necks in it the other weekend, what with a rather brilliant wedding taking place in Islington between two very lovely people that we know. We just had time to squeeze in a spot of lunch in town before meeting people and doing stuff, so, being the zeitgeist-surfing trend-observing types that we are, we headed straight to Seven Dials for a spot of fried chicken. Because, in 2016, nothing says achingly cool more than doing what KFC have been doing for years, but just bloody better.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

I got a bunch of free stuff and that's why you should all buy Scotts Miracle-Gro products!

Like most folk that write a blog, I got into this thing off the back of a personal passion, a hobby; I wanted to have somewhere to write about something that I enjoyed and cared about which, in my case, was our allotment. I wasn't that bothered if people read it or not as I was just doing it for the sake of it, to keep a diary, that sort of thing. However, when a few people started to tune in, and when I got a few comments below posts, it was pretty, pretty cool. Soon the buzz that comes from this kind of low-level affirmation wore off, so I got onto google analytics to see just how many people were reading what I was writing. There were more than I thought! I felt validated, and sort of important all over again. It was great! After a while the thrill of this subsided, and so like any other self-respecting blogger I sought the only other means of asserting my worth as a writer and self-facilitating digital content-slinger: Free Stuff!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Restaurant Review: MOD Pizza, Metrocentre

Choice! That's what people want, isn't it? Loads and loads of choice! By exercising our ability to peruse and discern we become the glorious self-actualised inner dream of the capitalist system, and it makes us all really happy too! Choice for all!

I'm not so sure. I don't want a choice of hospitals, I just want the one nearest to where I live to be really good. Same goes for Fire Stations. And schools. I don't want to have to spend hours researching the advantages of such and such free school over thingummy academy, I just want the nearest one to where we live to be worth going to. What's the hell has this got to do with pizza? Hang about, I'm getting there.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Putting things to bed

I'm just back from the allotment, where, as a dusty blue dusk was gathering, things are now pretty much as they will be for the next few months. I like this point of the year, allotment wise. Weeds are not immune from the natural laws which dictate that everything should slow down; it's satisfying to know that if you clear a patch it'll stay that way, until around March time at least.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Lovely things to do #4: The Great North Run

Today's lovely thing to do isn't just about the thing itself, lovely though that thing undoubtedly is, but what leads up to it too. There are no shortage of people who've done the Great North Run. Something like 50,000 tramp round every year, so I'm claiming no special achievement here. The thing is a lot of those people will be the drawn from the young and the naturally fit. I am neither of those things.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Late season scorecard

We've been neglecting the plot again. Not full-on Fritzl-level neglect you understand, but certainly enough to alert the authorities, assuming that there were any authorities that paid attention to neglected allotments, which, luckily for us, there isn't really. And yet, as we get to the end of the harvest season, we're still reaping the benefits of this gig with plenty of fresh veg coming our way on those one or two times per week when we bother to make the 5 minute walk up to the plot. I think we're late enough in the season to reflect a bit on what has done well and also not so well, don't you? You do? Very well friends, let's do it!

Things that have done well


Nothing to boast about here you might think, any old fool can grow a decent set of spuds, right? Well maybe, but we've had real problems getting a good crop grown some years on our previous plot at Nunsmoor Allotments. There the soil was heavy and full of clay. Here on Benwell Allotments it's light and free-draining. Perhaps this has made all the difference, but whatever it is, we've had quite startling results both this year and last. King Edwards in particular have grown oodles of first-rate tubers with very little in the way of pest damage, and with a quite superior flavour. They make fabulous roasties.

Beetroot and chard
Beetroot are total masochists, you can treat them like shit but they just keep coming back. We left a full tray of seedlings alone for too long and so they had all wilted by the time they got into the ground. A few weeks later and they had settled right in. A couple more and we had rows of the buggers. We've grown a longer variety rather than the more usual round Boltardy and they've done great. I'll be pickling some as soon as we finish eating last year's, and there will be many roasts and risottos to come which will feature their garish hues. We've got two thumping big chard plants left after two bolted irretrievably, and they're producing plenty of tasty foliage. Chard with soy, ginger and garlic is a bit of a revelation.


We didn't grow leeks last year and I rather missed them. There's something very calm about a nice leek; they don't grow too fast, just sort of sitting there in sentinel-like rows. We're harvesting them now and they're completely delicious. When this fresh, they're excellent chopped as finely as your knife skills will permit and used as the onion component in a quick stir fry.

Onions and shallots

All our shallots, and the vast majority of our onions were planted last Autumn. I like to do this as it means you've got at least something going on over winter, and if they do knacker up then you can just put Spring-planted sets in anyhow. The downside is that Autumn planted sets tend not to store nearly as well, a fact we would have done well to remember as we ended up throwing a lot of rotten onions away. Still, that's our fault, not theirs. We grew banana-style shallots - I much prefer these as they aren't too fiddly to peel - and they did well, despite being in the shade of some massive potato plants for quite a while.


We totally cheated with the tomotoes this year, buying all six of our plants from B&Q in a ready-to-plant variety set for about four quid. Varieties included Sungold, Moneymaker, Gardeners Delight and a crinkly one whose name escapes me. They all did pretty well, and despite only getting watered once or twice a week have fed us a steady stream of fruit throughout August and September.

I think I will grow from seed next year - buying plants is a fantastic time saver, but you on't quite get that sense of ownership or achievement when they work out. The flavour of all the varieties has been good rather than superb.

Radishes and turnips

It's hard to go wrong with radishes, but we have had bother with turnips in the past. Not this year! Purple Top Milan turnips are one of my favourite veg, they're just so goddam purty. We've grown them in a slightly shaded mini raised bed and they've bloody loved it in there.

Climbing beans

Two cane wig-wams of bean plants have provided us with more than we could eat over the last month or so. We must try and stagger the planting of these a bit next year. We cooked these with some miso and butter the other night and they were superb. Are you noticing a bit of an Asian theme developing? Me too. There's something about the deep savouriness, or umami if you will, of ingredients like soy, fish sauce and miso that just makes fresh veg sing.


Although we didn't get to eat any of these four plums - they all fell off and got munched by the wildlife - I'm still chalking this up as a victory. We rescued this tree from the old allotment more in hope than expectation as it had never even blossomed in its three or so years there. Well, it did this year and proceeded to produce fruit! Hopefully next year it will really hit it's stride.


Let's not piss about the bush here - these, by any metric, are mahoosive! Kasia is well chuffed, as pumpkins are her department. Funny how you take a liking to growing certain veg and not others. I'm all about the tomatoes and the potatoes, but I'm not fussed for pumpkins. What's that all about?

Other stuff that did good
We got a whole load of gooseberries for the first time and made a delicious fool. Rhubarb is doing well, although we've under-utilised it. I fancy making some rhubarb wine. We've got celeriac in and they're looking good. I will turn at least one of them into a classic remoulade. That's about it.

Things that have not done well

I know! After years of having way too many courgettes on our hands we took the decision only to have three plants this year. One promptly died and the other two have grown stupendous amounts of foliage, but hardly any fruit. It's so ironic that I rang Alanis Morisette up the other day with a suggestion for an additional verse for that song about irony she did years ago. I couldn't get past her publicist. Her loss.

Broad beans
We bought spring sown ready-to-go plants - The Sutton I think - from B&Q, but they didn't do great. We got a tiny crop before they all succumbed to some sort of chocolate-spot type discolouration on the leaves and pods. It'll be back to good old Aquadulce Claudia (surely one of the best named varieties of any vegetable around) next season, and we'll be planting them this Autumn so they get a head start too.

Cavolo Nero
The jury is still very much out on our Cavolo Nero. It did fantastically last year, providing us with iron-laden leaf deep into the dark recesses of winter. This year one plant died shortly after planting out and the rest have just sat there sullenly, not putting on much growth and taking a bit of a hammering from the bastard slugs. Perhaps it will yet rouse itself, like a green phoenix. Hope so, as kale chips are one of the very best things ever.

So, only two, possibly three failures out of everything we've grown; a very tolerable hit-rate. To be honest I've been happy to have a year off the courgettes anyway.

I think next year we need to decrease our spud allowance again, as I've still to dig a load of main croppers up. I'd like to grown some more interesting stuff too, not just the staples. I want to get carrots going and I've been toying with the idea of an asparagus bed, but what else should we grow in our light tilth?

What has been good for you this year, and what hasn't worked out so well. Any surprises? Let me know!

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