29 December 2016

Our Wonderful White Slovakian Christmas

This year's Christmas was a very special one, because it was our first Christmas as a married couple. Yes, we got married and there wasn't enough time to blog about it, because things have just been crazy since then. So we took a week off for Christmas and went to spend it in Slovakia with my family. However, wanting to have some privacy as well, we booked a room in a little place in the town centre. Sleeping in, going out for dinners, talking about everything and nothing, taking long walks in the snow, building miniature snowmen and coming back to our room with red faces, being thankful for the warmth and calm. I love spending time with my husband.

The whle town was wonderfully decorated with massive hanging snowflakes along the Main Street.

The Immaculata (our baroque plague column) had new golden plates added to it and as always the Christmas tree was the dominant decoration of the town. The State Theatre (the picture on the right) was not decorated but the old-fashioned lights gave it a very eerie look.

I could look at the lights for ever. Especially when it was snowing. It reminds me of watching the snowflakes dance in the light of the horribly ugly street lamp in our street which I could see from my bed when I was little. I would just lie down and watch the snow fall until I fell asleep.

Water in all fountains has been replaced by lights and at the Singing Fountain in front of St Elisabeth Cathedral there was an exhibition of ice sculptures. My favourites this year were Anna from Frozen and massive "visit kosice" in front of the fountain.

The trees were decorated as well. Simply magical :) And the next day we took the same walk, except in daylight.

30 October 2016

Runner Beans  "Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco" or "Firetongue"

Runner bens have been the most successful crop of the year. There wasn't enough time to run back and forth with watering cans, but they did well anyway, climbing up their support all the way into the trees. In fact, there are still some lonely pods hanging too high up to reach, waiting and drying up patiently to become seeds for next year.

I cannot remember how I acquired these seeds, but they were most likely an impulse buy.

They are called "Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco" or "Firetongue" because of their bright red pods.They start green as any other beans pods, but as they mature, red splotches appear, eventually fusing together, turning the pod dark red.

I turned the first little harvest of pods into a stir-fry and the latter ones were blanched and frozen for later. I loved checking on them, watching them grow, checking on the size of seeds in the pods and eventually picking and cooking them.

01 October 2016

Succulent Presents

This September it has been  year since I started in my new job. It has been incredibly stressful and
there were times when I really had enough and I was thankful to have so many incredible colleagues by my side. Some of those people, however, decided to move on and leave and I felt that giving them a little something to remember me by was only appropriate.

I love giving presents, when I have enough time to make them or buy them - or in this case grow them! Some of these little Haworthia plants are especially significant to me, because I grew them from the offsets of a plant that was given to me by my best friend for my 16th birthday good 12 years ago.

I re-potted each one separately into simple plastic bowls from Sainsbury's Mono series. I also gave each person a card with the instructions about how to grow the plant. Everybody was really pleased with the present and I hope that the plants will live for a long time and create many more offsets. In the meantime, I am growing more - just in case. :)

21 September 2016

Our Brief Time with Peter Fantastic and Sourdough Baking

My husband likes sending me links to interesting ideas that we could try one day. One of the more recent ones has been the link to a sourdough started and the ways to make bread with it.  Finding out about it some more, I have found that there is a little bit of craze around it and that many of my friends back in Prague have actually got experience with sourdough baking. So I joined the Facebook group, researched the topic on the Internet, read through the Say! Little Hen blog and eventually we decided to give it a go.

Sourdough is fun but it needs some attention. This New York Times article describes sourdough as “America’s rising pet” and it is true. You feed it, you take care of it, if you don’t give it the right conditions and don’t feed it, it will die. It will smell and look weird and you will have to get rid of it. It also mentions that people name their sourdough cultures, which was a little challenge in itself!

… and so with a little strange twist of fate and possibly extremely weird train of thought and mental associations we ended up living with Peter Fantastic. He is a lot like one of those relatives that you barely know about but from time to time you have to doing something nice for them.
We set him up in an IKEA jar, combination of water and plain flour, adding more water and flour every twelve hours.

Here he is, twenty-eight minutes in

And he grew. After about a day and a half there were first bubbles. One couldn’t be sure whether they were just bubbles of air that got caught in the starter during mixing that are now escaping or actual carbon dioxide created by the yeast, but we kept our fingers crossed for him.

Soon it was clear that we were successful. He was properly bubbling!

The first thing I baked were Kaiser buns, because my husband loves them and we have them every single time we go to Prague. So I tried to re-create them, but the proofing did not work that much and we ended up with some quite dense stuff. However, they were still pretty good

The first actual bread was very hard on top but nice and airy inside, even though a bit too dry.

This one was much better, probably the biggest success of all.

The above is my most rustic and probably crunchiest loaf. It was delicious with butter and honey and a cup of tea.

This was a challenge. Bread with pieces of lardons are quite popular in Slovakia and Czech republic, so I tried to make my own, as we happened to bring some lardons home from Surrey County Show. The only thing I did wrong was add the chopped up lardons early on and then started kneading it properly and - ouch - they are sharp!! ;D


We do not normally eat that much bread but with Peter, we kind of had to. It was a proper adventure, getting up early  on a Saturday morning to make bread - but only with the two of us we were overflowing with bread a bit.

I write in past tense because, well, as the weather got warmer, Peter started being less and less active (which is strange) and eventually the way he smelled has changed, there were no bubbles and small pink specks started appearing in the starter. That was the time when we gave up and gave him a good old down-the-toilet funeral.

However, the whole experience has opened the door to the amazing craft of breadmaking which I am sure I will return to one day. One day when we have a house in the country, family to feed the bread to and a garden full of bees buzzing outside the window (although just writing about it makes me want to go and set the whole thing up right now!)

17 September 2016

Wild Blackberries

There is one part of the garden that is becoming very busy these days and that is the blackberry hedge. Not really a part of the garden, as the hedge technically grows behind the fence and tends to fall in and poke through it, sticking the heavy fruits in to be picked.
Best things in life are free :) Yum.
A couple of months ago


09 July 2016

The Barrel of Stink

It's nearly the end of summer term, which means nothing else but getting really excited about the long summer holiday! And so that life is not boring, I decided to stench up the neighbourhood with some good, honest, organic, all-natural, wonderful, brilliant and stinking-like-cow-dung organic nettle brew/fertiliser. We do it every year when the nettles become abundant, leaving some of the plants for insects but making sure we benefit from them, too.

I originally got the idea from an episode of "Edible Garden" by Alys Fowler that I saw on YouTube.

It really is simple. Cut up some nettles, pour water over them and let rot for a couple of weeks. It is suggested that you cover it as the mixture can smell quite badly, however once it is done, the smell will mostly go away and the liquid should be almost see through. Diluted with water 1:10 it will be nitrogen, potassium, copper, zinc, magnesium and calcium-full feed to kick your plants into growth.

Less is more here, I think, so I tend to add a small cup of the feed into every watering can I pour over my plants to feed them small amounts of minerals gradually, as large concentrations of these minerals might cause water to move out of the roots by osmosis and eventually kill the entire plant.

Happy stinking!


25 June 2016

Elderflower Season and the Taste of Summer

Summer really is here now. Okay, so it's mild British summer, but it has started! Over the past few weeks, I have encountered several tutorials on how to make your own elderflower, how to fry battered flowers, how to make this and that using elderflower... All I could think of was there aren't any elderflower bushes around!

But then... As I was walking home from town with my shopping bags, I smelled the sweetest smell there is. It took me about 15 seconds to locate the bush (which could not be seen but could be smelled) and in spite of the fact that it was right near the road, I decided that a little cup of fully leaded town centre finest will not kill me. I went home with three massive blossoms, stuck them upside down into a tiny jar with a lot of sugar and lemon juice and here it is!

A couple of days later I enjoyed two glasses of delicious homemade elderflower cordial.

My recipe for elderflower cordial (it's SO easy!):

  • A lot of washed flowers (just to remove the insects and the biggest dirt)
  • A lot of sugar (I use regular white caster sugar)
  • A lot of lemon juice (some people add citric acid but I find it works fine without it as well)

  • Leave stand for about a day, then remove the flowers and sieve the liquid to remove lemon pips and any fallen off flowers.
  • Fill bottles and store in fridge. When drinking, dilute with water to taste.

Cheers! (May contain traces of aphids)

Since I first wrote this, I have located another bush of elderflower near our place and made more cordial. Most of the flowers are gone now, but there are many berries developing, promising another interesting foraging opportunities for later in the year.

05 June 2016

Isle of Wight Adventure

It was shortly before October half term that we got an offer to stay in a little seaside apartment on the Isle of Wight owned by one of our family members. We eagerly accepter and, hoping for good weather, we embarked on our first Isle of Wight adventure. We took a ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde and from there took a three-mile walk along the beach with our backpacks, stopping for a warming cup of tea at Dell Café near Appley Tower as it was really really cold.

It remained cold, windy and overcast for most of our stay but I felt that it only reinforced the small seaside town atmosphere that Seaview has. Having grown up in a landlocked country and dreaming of the sea, I still find it absolutely fascinating that there are places like this, where people just casually lean their boats against the fence.. 

However, we were also lucky. On the day that we have planned another 2.3 miles long walk to St Helen's (this time without the backpacks), the weather has cleared and in spite of it being October, it felt like summer. We walked along and explored the Priory Bay, which is surrounded by Priory Woods owned by National Trust.

From the shade of the forest the water looked beautifully dark blue, with mysterious shades of trees dipping into the waves.

At St Helen's we had a look at the Old St Helen's Church on the Duver and had lunch at the seafront at Baywatch on the Beach where I tried a crab for the first time.

My evenings were filed with beachcombing back in Seaview, getting really cold but enjoying the solitude and the wonderful views. As the sun set, the blue gave way to reddish and orange and at low tide the coast looked like some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland. I could have walked in the wet sand and peek into rock pools until it was too dark to see, when I would have to pace back to the cottage and get in half frozen but insanely happy, with a soaked canvas bag full of cuttlefish bones and shells.

One of the most interesting beach finds has been this piece of crab exoskeleton that I found in St Helen's. Completely dry, bleached by the sun, with one leg still attached. It was so thin and fragile and breakable that I left it there for someone else to find and take home.

What I took, however, were quite large quantities of cuttlefish bones, as my snails just love the ones I brought from Devon in summer. They were hiding in all sorts of places and on an almost shell-less beach, hunting for cuttlefish bones was my main form of entertainment.

It was also entertaining for my fiancé as he saw me get soaked by an unexpectedly big wave about two seconds after I took this picture.

Sea life aside, one of the most amazing creatures we saw was the red squirrel. They seemed to be quite abundant on the island. Every time I see one, I cannot believe how tiny they are compared to the North American grey squirrels that jump around our garden. No wonder they didn't stand a chance in competition against them.

I love these holidays where we just relax; walk, talk, cook, eat and read books. They bring a bit of calm into our busy lives. I hope we can return to the island soon for some more adventures.

03 June 2016

Our Day at Surrey County Show

Bank holiday Monday has been the day when Stoke Park in Guildford hosted the Surrey County Show. The only one I have been to so far was Devon County Show back in 2005 and I was totally thrilled, so I was really excited to go to a similar event in a different county.

The venue itself was quite well organised and full of tents, shops, rings and arenas. One of the first ones I wandered into was the pygmy goat tent. Being there really reminded me of working with goats at the petting zoo. The smell of hay and straw, the intelligent looks of the goats as they quietly munch on their hay and the overall calm atmosphere really made me feel like being on a farm. 

Apart from the cheese that was on site for tasting, there were also angora goats from "New Forest Mohair", fleece of which is dyed spun into lovely yarns. I adored their cute little display of all stages of the yarn making process and of course the real goat and her cute kid. There were several weaving stands at the show as well and many lady weavers were very nice and talkative. For example, the Women's Institute weavers have explained the difference between 1 ply and 2 ply wool and how they are made.

My next trip was to the poultry tent. I do like the idea of having a little flock of hens one day, just like my family had at our cottage when I was little, so seeing all the varied breeds of chickens just really got me daydreaming.

Even more thrilling was the egg competition! I actually got to see some real judging - a thing that I have only seen on TV until now. The variety of eggs was stunning: white, brown, blue, green and sort of a cappuccino-coloured. All were carefully examined by judges in white cloaks, then cracked and examined again until they were sure which one deserves the prize the most. I would really like to know the judging criteria for eggs.

Overall, in spite of the cold, wind and constant threat of rain it was a very successful day. There was hog roast, cups of hot tea and coffee that warmed us up and many show events that kept us busy until it was time to go home.

26 May 2016

There are days ...

...when I feel a bit bleak. That is when I start comparing myself to others. Normally I am quite content with my little self, the way I look, the way I act or how I do my job... But then there are days when all the people are smarter, more professional or better looking and with much more adventurous lives and many cooler pictures on Facebook.

Cosmos, radishes and chamomile seedlings. Aren't they wonderful?
And that is when I need to take a walk, go home and have a look at my bathroom windowsill and I know that this is my thing, that not everyone gets to grow vegetables in their flats and that even though this is not the norm, this is my little happy corner and yes, I am quirky, but that is just another way of saying "awesome". Life is good.

12 May 2016

The Morning Light

Every morning I pass the most amazing display of wild bluebells. It's just a tiny English corner left to itself that comes to life in this part of the year.

The light of the rising sun is blinding, the smell is enchanting and every single morning it reminds me how really nice it is to be in the world.

09 May 2016

Colour against Stress

Last weekend was the first since September (yes, you're reading correctly!) that I had no work to take home (I mean, you can always find some work to do, but nothing was really that urgent). So I was fully resolved not to do anything job-related. And... it felt weird! How sad is that ?!

Even worse, I "celebrated" the worry-free weekend by having a panic attack over the state of our crockery. And I am not exaggerating, it was a full-on panic attack, sitting on the floor, hugging my knees, crying and shaking front to back unable to speak because "how are we ever going to sort it out?" Sometimes my serotonin-deficient brain can play cruel tricks on me.

Luckily, there is almost always that lovely man of mine, who picked me up, took me to the living room, sat me down on a sofa and wrapped me in three blankets like a baby whilst talking to me. Men are often so under-appreciated and complained about, but  I don't know where I would be without mine.

This bit of stress has also brought me back to one of my lovely hobbies, which is colouring. I loved colouring books as a little girl and I love it still. Luckily, it's becoming more and more popular and available. I still remember buying my first colouring book of mandalas. It was during uni and I remember being totally drained after several long panic attacks, my head wouldn't stop crunching down on all the impossible thoughts that were sprouting in my brain. I had to get out of my room and almost frantically got into the tea house with a little shop full of spiritual books. By then I knew about relaxation via colouring, so I decided to try it. I still have the book, but since then the collection has grown. So has the collection of pencils, although most of them are old sets dug out from elsewhere. That does not stop them being beautiful and totally amazing though.

Page 37 from a Czech book "Antistresové omalovánky pro dospělé" (Anti-stress colouring for adults)
by Jolana Daňková and Lenka Tréglová

 Since my first book I have gathered these three more. Most pictures are left blank and some are only partly coloured, so they still promise many hours of free entertainment. Yay!

07 April 2016

Tasty Looking Crochet

It goes without question that a new baby in the family totally changes the life of his of her parents. It is also quite understandable that they change the lives of all the relatives and friends of the family closest to them. However, I was quite surprised, as an almost-Auntie living a thousand miles away, to see how much my new niece changed my life. When I got the text message about her birth two years ago, I couldn't stop being happy.  I loved her since she was born and there is nothing she can do to make me love her less.

She is the sole reason why I got into making crocheted toys. Many kids have benefited from it since then, but it all started with her, the first weird-shaped, poorly-embroidered attempts at toys are hers. Luckily, I am getting better and better. These are the Christmas presents that she got, along with her brand new IKEA kitchen from her parents. Now she cooks steak and chips in the pretend oven and fries the carrots in her little fake frying pan.

As her birthday approached, I was very busy, but managed to make these pieces of sushi and a kiwi for her. I wasn't there, but I was told that the kiwi was tasted immediately :D

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