Saturday, 28 April 2012

Tomato recipes

I know.  It seems an odd time of year to be posting tomato recipes.  But I promised recipes in my last post, and I'm still mourning my lost tomato plants, and it's still raining, so tomato recipes it is, in the hope of injecting a bit of sunshine.

Tomato and chilli jam
I think I cut this out of a Country Living magazine (the UK one) originally.  Make it exactly how you would make any normal jam.  It's lovely with cheese or sausages.

1.2kg ripe tomatoes
Juice of 5 lemons
1tsp crushed, dried chillies (I have tried it with fresh, which makes it difficult to predict the heat, and with chilli powder, in which case you need a bit less)
650g sugar

Roast tomatoes for freezing, with many uses

I make this up every time I do it.  (I think I started with this version of oven dried tomatoes but got lazy about chopping and measuring, so my version is really roasted tomatoes/sauce - they are not dried at all.)  I put it in pots in the freezer and use it whenever a recipe calls for tinned tomatoes (or even fresh ones sometimes), as pasta sauce and as a pizza topping.  Since it's made up I can't give quantities (follow the link above if you want a proper recipe!) but here's a rough idea of the process:

Put lots and lots of tomatoes in a baking tray, or several trays.  If they are big, chop into halves or quarters before putting them in the tray.  Mostly I don't bother.  I don't worry about removing seeds or skins; life's too short.  Anyone who doesn't like the skins is welcome to pick them out.

Dribble over several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.  Add salt and some fresh or dried herbs - I normally use marjoram or oregano, sometimes a bit of thyme too.

Also add garlic.  If you feel like it, peel and chop (or use a garlic press) around half a dozen cloves per tray.  Confession: by the end of last summer I had got so lazy that I didn't even peel or chop, just threw them straight in there in their skins and when they'd softened (during or after the cooking process) squeezed them out, squashed them and mixed them in. I may have missed one or two...

Put they trays in the oven at around 150 degrees C and leave them until they look ready, stirring every now and again . They look ready when they've burst their skins (you can help them along a bit once they've softened), cooked down to a pulp, and thickened up (ie a lot of the juice has evaporated).

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Tomato mistakes

I like growing tomatoes.  I love the smell, the fact that one tiny seed can make so many fruits, and I love harvesting them, preserving them, then sitting back and basking in the "look what I did" feeling.

Last year I was convinced none of my green fruits was ever going to ripen (possibly due to the fact that my so-called staking had completely failed to do the job and the plants mainly grew horizontally, and over one another so that the toms were mainly hidden amongst the leaves in slug heaven) but in the end, thanks to the East Anglian sunshine, I didn't end up with a single green one at the end of the season.  And so we had pots and pots of tomato and chilli jam along with lots of frozen roasted tomatoes for sauces, pizza toppings and so on.  (I'll post both recipes soon.)

Hmm, did I mention East Anglian sunshine?  Not so far this year.  No, in the last fortnight we have had rain, wind, hail, wind, rain, hail... Granted, there have been some amazingly sunny half-hours in between, but only to lull us into a false sense of security.  Oh, and it's cold.

Unfortunately this - er - challenging weather began just when I was forced to put my windowsill-grown tomatoes outside (protected with fleece and plastic it's true, but still outside) as they were completely blocking the kitchen window and bursting out of their pots.  Now when I see the sorry state they are in (it hailed for the first time about an hour after I cruelly ejected them), my heart sinks.

Still, onwards and upwards.  Today I sowed a few more seeds in pots on the same windowsill in the hope that by the time the plants are big enough to need to move on, the weather may be kinder, and warm enough to make up for their late start.  If not, I'm sure the local garden centre will welcome my custom.  There's always a Plan B.  Or C.  Either way, there must be tomatoes.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bunking off is hard to do

It feels slightly wrong that my second post in exploring living and working at home should be about 'bunking off' and leaving both home and office, but actually it's very relevant to the living part.  And, now I think about it, to the working part too.

People often say to me, "Oh, I would never have the motivation to work at home," thereby implying that they would spend the day in bed, watching TV, eating ice cream - anything but working.  I'm not the first to point out that the opposite is true.  Working is not a problem.  Stopping work is a challenge.  And the thing is that even when you do take time 'off work', not only does it mean that what you didn't do this afternoon will be waiting for you this evening instead, but it also means that the ironing mountain begins to glare at you from the corner of the room, you realise there is no food in the house and you actually begin to see the scattered toys you've been carefully stepping around for days.

So, having been re-reading 'The Artist's Way', I decided to take myself off yesterday afternoon to a new(ish) yarn shop not far from home for an 'artist date' - basically a bit of re-inspiration time.  Not that I'm a knitting designer, textile artist or anything like that; writing is my thing, but knitting keeps me sane and switches off my brain.  And I like soft, pretty wool.

Yet all morning I found excuse after excuse not to go.  I made a mental list as long as my arm of other enjoyable things I could be doing with my afternoon, but these were actually all "shoulds" in disguise: go to the allotment (because I should be weeding); carry on working (because I should get ahead with this job and because I should be here in case anyone calls); go for a walk (because I should get more exercise)...  And there is nothing wrong with any of these things.  I enjoy them all and will do them all.  But really I wanted to go and play in a yarn shop.

So what did I do?  I tossed a coin.  Fortunately the universe was smiling on me because the yarn shop won.  But I swear if the coin had come down on the other side I would have stayed at home.

On the drive there I had two separate ideas for short stories and had to pull over to write them down.  I enjoyed the spring sunshine (in between the April showers downpours).  I sang along loudly to cheesy folk music.  When I got there I found lots of squishy yarn to play with (er...and to buy), and had a lovely chat with the shop owner, as well as a good cup of tea.  And that evening I worked happily for hours on both paid and unpaid work, full of energy I really don't think I would have had if I'd kept plugging away all afternoon.  I got as much done as if I had worked all afternoon, probably a lot more because I wouldn't have had those ideas.

So why, oh why, is it so hard to let myself take a couple of hours off every now and again?  Taking time for living is not only fun, but makes the working more productive and fun afterwards.  Oh, and another thing.  That couple of hours away from home (where I spend most of my time, remember) made me really appreciate home when I returned to it.  Yet another cliche that turns out to be true.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Simple, not profound

I have been trying to make this first post profound and meaningful.  I have been trying to explain my reasons for beginning and the themes I hope to explore.  But in the end, as always, simple is best.

I live in my home (well, obviously...).  I also work at home, which means I spend most of my time in and around these four walls.  So home matters simply because it's the place I'm in most.  But I've also realised that nearly all of the things that matter to me either begin, end, or are completely enmeshed in, the notion of home.  And that the more time I spend working at home, the less I seem to separate my home self from my work self.

I don't mean that I can't switch off from work at the end of the day (although it happens) or that I occasionally find myself doing laundry or baking bread in between phone calls to clients (although I do).  Rather, I feel that laundry, computer work, gardening, making dinner, meeting clients and the million other things I do or aspire to do in a day are, in the end, part of my life and deserve equal attention and equal status.

This blog is about bringing together my favourite things, my principles and passions, hopes and aspirations, to weave them together into one unique life.  Whether work or home related, they will all be things which matter to me.