Growing Green

Just working up to it…  We’ve agreed our planting plan for the season:

Bed #1 – Salad crops, herbs & courgettes.

Lettuce (5 varieties), chard, silverbeet, sorrel, mustard, rocket, dill, parsley, basil (4 varieties), coriander, nasturtiums, chives, mint.  This bed had curcubits in it last season, hungry monsters taking a lot from the soil, so shallow rooted, fast growing, oft picked salads will not be too demanding.  We’ll manure the ends of the beds more heavily to keep the greedier courgettes happy.  The small herb bed doesn’t yield enough for us and our guests to pick too frequently, so growing more in the beds should help.

Bed #2 – Onions and carrots

This bed nurtured tomatoes last season so onions and carrots won’t be too demanding.  We need to work in lots of sand for the carrots (Purple Haze and a local variety) and we won’t be manuring this bed with all the rest.

Bed #3 – Tomatoes, aubergines & capsicums

The salad crops that grew here last season won’t have taxed the soil too hard.  We’ll feed these beds well and give the fruit a deeply manured hole to live in.  Peppers & chillies will grow in between the tomatoes getting shelter from their leaves and we’ll be scrupulous about feeding & watering well and at the right time.  Aubergines are related to tomatoes, so let’s hope they get along well in the garden this year.

Bed # 4 – Onions & carrots

Yes, more of what we use!  We’re being properly practical this year and growing lots of stuff we use daily so we can increase the savings on our grocery bill, rather than using up precious space in our garden with stuff that does poorly like pumpkin & squash (these guys will go to the orchard this season, planted over deeply manured holes and left to scramble far & wide amongst the flowers – we have nothing to lose if they don’t flourish there either).  I’m going to try growing beetroot and chives in amongst the carrots to assess the validity of the companion planting claim.  The nitrogen in the soil from the beans & peas last season will benefit root crops.

Bed #5 – Tomatoes, aubergines & capsicums

Do you sense a theme here?  Yep, practicality and experience wins the day.  We KNOW we can grow tomatoes successfully, I’ve never yet bewailed a surfeit of this fruit and I would love to have enough tomatoes to be able to bottle some for the winter months, make more chilli jam and tomato chutneys.  And I have some exciting new varieties this year – pink tomato seeds (donated by Nik via Armenians or some such folk), Grbalj tomatoes (donated by Fiona, saved seed of fruit that grew well for her), Tiger Toms (which we grew as plants last year and then managed, accidentally, not to keep a single one!) plus the usual suspects – beef toms, cherry toms and ‘money maker’.

Bed #6 – Beans, peas, beetroot & radish

About 3 years ago, I had an entire bed lined with beans, the best crop we ever had. I’m going to try to recreate my success, back in the same bed (which interestingly has more clay in it than most which might help water retention) and intersperse with peas, beets and radish.  I had poor success with the latter 2 last year so I’m adhering to my companion planting notes and using local, rather than UK, seed.

Baking & Making

Preserve me! begged the kiwi and lemon, picked in abundance from Nik’s garden.  And so I did.  This is me, surrounded by my bounty, giving up a day to making kiwi chutney – jars and jars of it.

Den making chutney

Some jars had lots of chilli, others Indian spices, some thicker than others (at times I bailed on the process after getting bored and ended up with runny chutney).  All delicious.  The jars lined up in the cool, dark recesses of our spare bedroom, awaiting being paired with cheese, or sliced cold cuts or an Indian feast, make me proud.

More importantly that ‘domaci’ produce will make our campers very happy this summer.  Imagine it, you’ve come to Montenegro for a camping holiday, hired a tent from us, taken up the offer of food because it’s such a cool idea to share a meal with fellow guests & your hosts and are served an Indian buffet with homemade kiwi chutney in a country which only has 1 decent Indian restaurant, in the entire country - you will thank your lucky stars, rave about us on Trip Advisor and tell all your friends…  It’s got to be good for business, right?

Kiwis also got juiced with apples and bananas for a deliciously healthy start to the day.  They turned up in tartlets hiding under lemon curd and they got themselves chopped into a sweet dough with walnuts, raisins and honey for Steve’s yummy kiwi bread.

As for the lemons… Lemon curd (below in the making), some of which then had to be used in a lemon meringue pie – a joint effort with my curd and homemade pastry and Steve’s triumphant peaks.

Lemon curd

Lemon marmalade was Steve’s fancy.  I’m not overly keen, especially since I slaved over the prep and the pot for ages and only got 3 lousy jars.  However I have since used it in cooking and made a mean ‘lemon chicken’.  It is a nice dark colour and super thick and so tangy, it makes your mouth zing.

Lemon marmalade

Last year Steve made lemon pickle, egged on by a half-Indian pal of ours and guided by a cool internet recipe that involves no oil and instead preserves lemons using salt and the power of the sun.  It was a big hit – totally delicious and so easy to make.  This year I’ve made 2 litre jars full and am considering making more…

Lemon pickle making

We’ll turn these jars every day and put them in the sun as much as possible.  Depending on the weather, the pickle should be ready by March/ April.

Lemon pickle

Guess what else we made this month…?

Sausage mix

Any idea yet?

Sausage skins

Yep – sausages!!!  (The disgusting picture above is sausage skins soaking!) Fat ones with herbs and breadcrumbs, UK-stylie…

Sausage making

Steve’s been perfecting his baked bean recipes and has produced some cracking grub, that even the locals approve of (‘pasulj’ or bean dishes are a regional specialty).  And I’ve been experimenting with the regional cuisine more too.  Eat what the locals eat and when… kisela kupus (sauerkraut) and smoked meat are cheap and filling, so Podvarak it will be!  Trust me, it tastes better than it looks here.

Podvarak

Steve’s career as a baker continues to blossom.  Here’s a lovely loaf he baked, with sunflower & pumpkin seeds for extra texture.  It really is tasty.

Steve's loaf

I’m still finding new great things to do with my pressure cooker.  The latest culinary success was Chinese spare ribs, cooked once in the pressure cooker for just 15 mins in water and spices (the meat was falling off the bone at that point it was already so tender), then marinaded in mandarin marmalade, 5-Spice and garlic and whacked in the oven on high for 10 mins to crisp up.  A big hit.

Feelings & Musings

In years gone by January was a month to dread.  With all the fun of Christmas and new year’s eve over, the first month of the fresh year can be a massive anticlimax.  People resolve to make themselves more miserable (new year’s resolutions always seem to be about giving stuff up – fags, chocolate, booze – & rarely about adding good stuff in – more smiles, learning, love).  The weather doesn’t help.  Holiday entitlement is used up, or nearly.  In January last year in the UK I remember hearing the stats about this ‘suicide month’…

However, January in Montenegro is a fabulous flippin’ month.  The Orthodox festivities last until mid January.  Bonfires are lit outside churches, bangers explode on the streets.  The feasting and making merry continues even after 14th (Orthodox new year) with slavas or saints days.  Little serious work is expected, in fact it’s actively dissuaded.  It’s not dry or warm enough to work outside and it’s too early for seed sowing, so the Camp Full Monte crew can lounge about in front of the fire guilt-free.

Films and TV series keep us entertained (we’re loving the English humour and pathos in ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and laughed out loud at ‘Last Vegas’). Scrabble puzzles and cryptic crosswords keep our brains from melting. Daisy walks keep our circulation going.  But it’s all at a gentle pace, with late nights and late mornings if we feel like it…

Ours is a warm, welcoming house where we cook up good food and enjoy a glass of wine or 2 and it’s been nice sharing it with friends.  We’ve hosted a couple of games nights and cooked dinner for mates.  To counteract the eating and drinking, I’ve detoxed for a week, cut our sugar (mostly – hard to resist the kiwi bread and lemon meringue pie!) and resumed my exercise regime.  I’m hoping that keeping muscles toned and strengthening my core stability will help my back stay in good shape this summer.  This time last year I was doing a lot of sitting on my butt and not much exercise at all and I’m sure that was a contributing factor to my back problems.

Bookings, enquiries and volunteer applications trickle in and we’re at the nice stage – planning the season ahead, talking about possible projects, anticipating events to host – without actually doing anything.  February will see us moving into gardening mode and being obsessed with sowing and growing, so I’ve been enjoying the hiatus.

 

Reading

I was gifted an Iain Banks novel by Rrrrr who sometimes checks this blog and hopefully will enjoy reading my thoughts.  ‘The Business’ is, well, the business!

iain banks book

It’s a romping good read – well written with interesting characters (I particularly enjoyed meeting Jebbet E. Dessous on these pages – what a man, what a name!).  The setting for the book ranges wildly so the reader gallops about from sleek, minimalist spaces to huge country piles to airplanes to ships, helicopters, snowy slopes, barren wildernesses and back again and thankfully Banks fitted some Scottish scenes in too, complete with rich Glaswegian accent.  In it’s mission to fulfill the compelling storyline and express the author’s enormous imagination, it’s a wildly adventurous book that must have been a challenge to pull off.  It reminds us of the skill of Mr Banks and of what a talent the world has lost to his passing…  I saw an interview with him just before he died and so wished I could have met the man.

I was delighted that the main character was a woman – I don’t remember reading a Banks’ novel with a female taking such a pivotal role (I haven’t read them all, forgive me!).  But Kate is the only slight disappointment to be honest.  He doesn’t really pull off portraying a woman’s vulnerability and emotions and she comes across as barely distinguishable from all the blokes.  But that’s a slight niggle that in no way impaired my enjoyment of the book, which I raced through in a couple of nights.

Although a satisfying complex book, it is not over-smart and in the end it’s hurrah for the goodies and boo to the baddies.  And it’s quietly witty… Banks uses names and character traits to humourous effect and brings the reader to incredible situations just ripe for some gentle teasing, so that just as you are in awe and on the edge of a seat, you always want to giggle a bit!  Clever, clever guy.  Brilliant book.

 

And onto another, very different (even to the spelling) Ian.  I borrowed this book from Carrie despite her telling me she didn’t really enjoy it.  We have different tastes in books at times (‘A Sense of an Ending’ was loved by me & hated by her!) but I’m kinda with her on this one.

Ian McEwan book

It’s a clever book, well written with big words and complex descriptions.  McEwan’s prose found me reaching for a dictionary even after the first few lines (‘anhedonic’…) but this doesn’t impress as much as irritate at times.  I like a book to flow and the constant interruption to check meaning was a little frustrating – but my stupid problem, not his…

Michael Beard, the main character, grows more repulsive as the book develops.  It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is about the man – it’s a muddle of many things that individually irritate or make one mildly squirm but collectively create a compounded, deep dislike – his weakness, his infidelity, his gluttony, his selfishness…  I was detoxing whilst reading the book and the descriptions of him stuffing his face, to an unnecessary degree, made me feel really queasy.

There was a whole interlude in the book about a visit to the North Pole, which seemed very random.  It didn’t build plot and seemed to be included just for McEwan to fulfil his whim for some sick humour.  And there was much that didn’t ring true – McEwan had made his anti-hero so objectionable, so how was it possible that Melissa – sweet, kind, caring Melissa – actually fell for the jerk?

As soon as it was done I picked up Games of Thrones and moved on.  More of that in the next blog when I’ve finished it.

Work

I started the new year with a good deed – volunteering for a few hours at the dog shelter in Tivat.  I walked a few dogs and this little girl, who looks like my childhood pet, Zeeta, got a good scrub from me and a haircut from Fiona.

Zeeta lookalike

They’re doing an amazing job at the shelter with limited resources, much helped by the enthusiastic contributions of passionate activists and dedicated dog lovers, Fiona and Michelle.  But the stench of the place almost made me gag – I could almost taste it in the back of my throat for hours after…

The weather was awful for half of the month so outside work projects have been limited.  We’ve managed a couple of days on the campsite re-palming our boundary fence after scoring a van load of palms after a tip off from a local acquaintance.  Another full van load might just be enough to fully restore the fence to it’s former glory and patch all the gaps.  And continuing the re-cycling theme – other ‘work’ this month has been thinking green, wherever possible.  So, dishcloths have been replaced by squares of waste material; cuttings have been taken from friends’ plants; leaves have been collected from friends’ gardens; yoghurt pots and plastic tubs are being collected for growing seed; more folk have been encouraged by us to start a compost heap, save their water bottles and collect water from a spring not from the supermarket and other such eco stuff… Every little helps.

There’s been a few small maintenance tasks – replacing a section of pipe in our chimney that had holes in, clearing out the fan in one of the compost toilet vents which had got blocked and stopped turning – but nothing too taxing and mostly our ‘work’ has been indoors – making preserves, answering queries from would-be campers in Montenegro and confirming bookings.

I ventured out in the rain to begin the process of getting my first visa in 8 years to legally reside in Montenegro (!) and to order some signs for the campsite – this year, with our legal status confirmed, we are going all out for as much business as possible.  No longer afraid to put our heads about the parapet, we’re paying for signs (and getting permission from the municipality) and positioning them on the border so that either entering or leaving Montenegro at the main Debeli Brijeg border there will be a sign to entice campers, whilst dissuading camper van drivers and those towing caravans – they shouldn’t be encouraged to navigate the 2.5kms of steep upwards climb only to find there’s nowhere for them at our off-grid (i.e. nowhere to empty your evil, chemical toilet), eco (no vehicle access on site) campsite…

Fingers crossed the signage and all the online marketing that Steve’s been busily working away at via various online forums, photo sites and social networks will pay off.  We need an exceptionally good year financially in 2014.  We ‘lost’ 2 months last season with May & June being washouts, so are praying that the weather is on our side too.  5 months of fantastic sunshine, a regular stream (I’m talking 20+ folk on site every day, ideally) of campers and people wanting to hire our tents and eat and drink with us, and locals and ex-pats paying to attend this season’s events – THAT is what we need.  C’mon Camp Full Monte!!!!  We can do it!

 

Play

The Christmas jigsaw turned into the New Year jigsaw.  This (plus lots of liquids) is how we recovered from the NYE excesses…

Holiday jigsaw

It’s been a month of entertaining friends and being entertained.  Mary & Tris hosted us for a lovely evening, munching Mary’s divine homemade cherry bakewells and supping wine.  Cecile & Marjan invited us to spend local Christmas Eve with them.  Cess cooked a chilli and we introduced them to the delights of Tak-Tic.  Bernie and Marko invited us to an Indian feast and we brought spiced kiwi chutney to go with it.  Emma and Ben stayed in Maja’s house for a week or so whilst the Hare-Browns were in the UK, so the Heywoods were nearby for a change.  We took a Thai curry over and caught up with the surprisingly un-frazzled parents, whilst the twins and Freddy slept soundly.

We organised a girl’s night out before Emma went back to Virpazar so she could enjoy some proper grown-up time, child and hubby-free for a few precious hours.  Ann used the occasion to invite and introduce us to some new girlies in town – some working on the marina development in Kumbor (Portonovi) and others, wives of guys working on the Portonovi project.  Turns out Karen, from Northern Ireland, lives 2 minutes from us and I was invited there for a girlie afternoon where I got to know her and Zonika, a South African lass also married to a contractor, ate banana pancakes and nibbles and staggered home half cut after a few glasses of wine and some loza.  It was just like the old days with Amy Watson!!!

We hosted a games night with food and wine, me & Nikola vs Steve & Nik in Tak-Tic and then a session of dice to end the evening with Nikola rolling an incredible 3,000+ point comeback at the end.  We welcomed Maja & Keith back with a hearty beef stew, fried cabbage and mash followed by homemade kiwi & lemon sorbet.  We hosted Jen, Nathan and Alan for sausage making and games.  More Tak-Tic converts and more dice, but painfully slow going at times coaching a very sozzled Jen!  For Jack & Hayley, freshly returned from the UK, we cooked local-style fare and baked a lemon meringue pie – a meal to bridge the cuisines…

 

Nature Watch

The weather turned grim half way through the month.  Rain has been lashing down pretty consistently ever since, with just the occasional respite of a dry & sunny day.  Despite the cloud cover, nights have been chilly and we’ve relished toasting our be-thermalled bodies beside the fire.  We could do with it warming up and drying up now though – the wood pile is running very low and we need the rain to subside so our raised beds aren’t too water-logged as we want to plant in Feb.

Before the weather turned, we were marvelling at the warmth for the time of year and the strange things it was doing to nature.  A pair of locusts turned up in my wardrobe; there were plenty of bees and butterflies a-wing and flowering away on the campsite were some roses, snapdragons, stock, alyssum and pansies.

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