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Monday, 24 February 2014

Battling the Weather, mentally as much as physically

The British are known for their love of talking about the weather but, let's face it, we have a lot to talk about! One thing you can be sure of, whatever the weather is currently doing, it won't be doing it for much longer. What I'm constantly amazed at is how much influence the weather has on our mood. It is certainly harder on a dim, grey, wet day to be chirpy and upbeat than it is on a warm, sunny day. As we move through the seasons, I find my attitude to the weather shifts very quickly and yet I find it hard to remember how I was feeling just a few days previously, or to imagine how I might feel in a week or two. The weather seems to keep my mood very much in the present.

When the summer is here and the weather is warm and the days long, it is so easy to pop in and out of the house with little more effort than slipping on a pair of flip flops. Things in the vegetable garden are growing well and the harvests are good and it is hard to imagine that things will change. I find myself optimistically sowing seeds for late crops or for vegetables that will be ready in the winter, thinking that I shall appreciate it in the middle of winter when I can pop round to the allotment and dig up a parsnip or a leek. But then, suddenly (and it does seem sudden), winter arrives. The nights draw in, the wind becomes bitter and the soil becomes soggy and sticky. That dream of harvesting parsnips and leeks doesn't match the reality. It's so dark in the evenings I can't even get out to the allotment and at the weekends I just don't fancy togging myself up in suitably warm, scruffy clothes and struggling across the plot, with my boots becoming heavier with every step as they accumulate mud. As for harvesting parsnips - that heavy clay is not about to willingly give them up to any amount of tugging and quite honestly I don't fancy washing half an allotment's worth of soil down my kitchen sink to clean them anyway. If it was all that stood between me and starvation then it would be another matter... but it isn't.

So through the winter I amuse myself with the things I was sensible enough to pack into the freezer, washed and carefully portioned and I stare out of  the window at the bleak weather. There is no sense of longing inside me, just a grim acceptance and a slight nagging worry in the back of my mind that I will never again feel the urge to go outside and grow something. And with my daily to-do-list longer than is possible to complete anyway, I wonder how I will find the time for it all.

Then, out of the blue, comes a sunny day and my spirits lift. Suddenly, I find myself positively drawn into the garden where there is satisfaction to be gained even from the mundane tasks of clearing dead leaves or washing flower pots. The urge to sow something comes back with a rush and I find myself hunting out half-empty bags of potting compost and dusty flower pots just to get a few things started. In fact, the hardest thing is to reign in these feelings and avoid the temptation of doing too much too soon.

Round on the plot the parsnips, leeks and beetroots are still where I left them back at the end of autumn, a little worse for wear but still edible. Now there is satisfaction to be had from harvesting these few remaining homegrown crops, that so suit the comfort food needed at this time of year. Tiny beetroots that are not going to swell any further are harvested and made into the last jar of pickled baby beets of the season. Parsnips are finally yanked from their untimely graves and the leeks are now fat and ready for the pot. And I know just the pot. After a satisfying day in the garden, as the sun sets, still early, and the night quickly becomes cold, time for a nice warming dinner with some seasonal veg.

Ham & Leek Cannelloni (serves 4) (from Good Food http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/7694/ham-and-leek-cannelloni)

2-3 leeks (depending on their size)
300ml vegetable stock
100g cooked ham or gammon
1 pack of fresh lasagne (6 sheets)
200g creme fraiche
1 heaped teaspoon on mustard
2 slices of bread made into crumbs

Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas 6 and find a suitable ovenproof dish. Slice the leeks and boil in the vegetable stock for 5 minutes. In the meantime, cut the ham into small pieces. Once the leeks are cooked, drain them, reserving the stock then combine the leeks and ham. Spoon the leek and ham mixture equally along the centre of each sheet of lasagne then roll the sheet into a tube and place side by side in the dish, with the joins down. Mix the creme fraiche, stock, mustard and some grated cheese together then pour the liquid over the cannelloni. Scatter the breadcrumbs all over top and finish with some more grated cheese then bake for 20 minutes until cooked through and golden. Serve with a side dish of vegetables or salad.