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!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Lovely things to do #3: nature amongst the industrial desolation at Seal Sands

There's a bank holiday coming up! The weather forecast is (mostly) looking decent! You need to get out there and do something, but what? What the heck will you do?! Well fear thee not, for right here at Patchy Growth we have, as they say, got your back. Yes, that's right, brace yourself: it's time for a Lovely thing to do!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Restaurant Review: The Ritz Restaurant, Mayfair, London

Deciding where to eat for a bit of a blow-out treat when down in that London is a very pleasant, if not easily resolved problem. On prior trips down we've enjoyed meals at The Square, Alyn Williams and (best of the lot) The Ledbury. Although it needn't have to, high-end cooking does tend to come with a side order of plushness which, as a temporary counterpoint to the decidedly quotidian thrum of the daily grind, is very nice, thanks. Knowing a bit more about food than the dark arts of interior design or architecture (which isn't hard, as I know nothing about either), where we eat is about food first, with the comfy seats and thick carpets being a happy coincidence. With The Ritz it was, for once, the other way round. What would it even be like to eat lunch in that room? I had read enough glowing reviews of the classical cooking overseen by South Shields native John Williams MBE to think that it would be be worth finding out. So we did!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Restaurant Review: Marmelo Kitchen, Leyton, London

London! Brilliant, isn't it? Well, I think so anyhow, at least in compact doses. London is a bit like Gentleman's Relish; a little really does go a long way. Catching up with friends who travelled south years ago and went native; getting your fix of the shit-hot cultural offering that you pay for in tax but don't normally get the chance to enjoy; and, of course, peering in at what's happening in the world of London food. All of this, at least for a few days, is surely worth the inconvenience of having your bogeys go black with pollution and the shock of paying six quid for a pint of underwhelming beer.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Lovely things to do #2: Go for a walk up to Simonside

One of the happier facts about living in Newcastle is how quickly you can get somewhere lovely and interesting by heading out of town in all four directions. To the west, Hadrian's Wall, Sycamore Gap and Kielder. To the east, Tynemouth and the coast. Durham is to the south (as is Sunderland, but hey, every rule needs an exception). Perhaps the finest rural treasures however lie in the direction of the big point on the compass. We're intimately familiar with the pristine coast that leads up towards the border, but the walk up to Simonside, just south of Rothbury was somewhere we had neglected, until recently, and is the subject of today's lovely thing to do. Prepare to be lovelied!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Drying out the alliums

The recent blast of inferno-like conditions has hit us at a rather handy moment, as we've hoiked up all that remained of our autumn-planted allium crops and got them in the shed drying out. From past experience, autumn-planted onions don't store anything like as well as their spring-planted counterparts (why is  that, by the way?), but we don't have enough of theme for this to be an issue- we'll have scoffed them all sharpish.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The rewards of rootling, and a whirlwind video tour of the plot

I like the word "rootle" a lot. It conjures an image of pigs or boar, searching for insects or acorns in shady woodland. Or of me, once a year, checking whether the potato plants are doing the business. The latter of these things happened on our allotment yesterday. I'd normally wait at least until the flowers show on our first early varieties to have a ferret around under the foliage, but, partly in the interest of getting to eat some spuds while they are still really waxy (last years were almost all floury, and useless for boiling) I had a look yesterday.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Double Deli Alert! Rural & La Casa

It's all gone a bit Iberian of late in Newcastle, as a couple of very worthwhile delis have opened up in the last few weeks, both of which are deserving of your attention. Almost overnight, the range of charcuterie in this fair city has lengthened and deepened quite considerably which is a very good thing indeed, not to mention some excellent cheeses and other bits and bobs not previously available.

Service Station Review: Tebay Services, Cumbria

Check out the picture above and tell me what you see. It's a service station, right? Right. So: as you walk in, and past the bleeping ranks of fruit machines and arcade games there'll be a desperately grim selection of refreshments and edibles on sale to rouse the weary travelling hordes. These will be criminally overpriced, meaning that what was only meant to be a quick toilet stop for the kids ends up costing as much as a full meal out back home in your favourite restaurant. Through gritted teeth you curse capitalism for having shafted you once again, before climbing back into the motor and furiously yet impotently blasting as far down the M-whatever as you can until the kids need to pee again, at which point the grim cycle repeats itself. Right? WRONG! Because (*adopts sultry breathy tones*) this isn't any service station; This is TEBAY service station!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Restaurant Review: Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle upon Tyne

People (and when I say people, what I really mean is idiots) often calculate the extent to which a meal out provides good value by doing a rough sum of how much extra they have paid for it than it would have cost for them to assemble the raw materials themselves. You'll often find comments such as "Fifty Quid for two people??!! I could have bought all that stuff for a tennner, what a rip-off. DON'T YOU KNOW SOME PEOPLE CAN'T AFFORD TO EAT AT ALL??!!" lurking below the line of newspaper restaurant reviews. This is childishly ignorant for at least two reasons. Firstly, what kind of insane masochist reads all the way through a review of a nice restaurant when they know in advance it's going to set their teeth so thoroughly on edge? Secondly, and more substantially, it fails to recognise what a restaurant actually is.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Checking out the birds over the fence

We got a proper glimpse for the first time into the intriguing world of pigeon keeping at the weekend. The owner of the loft which backs onto our plot has been painting his sheds, necessitating the removal of part of our fence. This is fine, and I strongly suspect that they'll return to a better state of health than that in which they found it. It was an excellent excuse to invite ourselves for a look round their lofts and to find out a bit about how the whole murkily intriguing pigeon game operates.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Restaurant Review: Neptune Fish Restaurant, Seahouses

Neptune. To the right, the competition. To the left, a small abandoned child: welcome to Cameron's Britain.
After a premium morning of poncing around the Farne Islands, what better way of satisfying the resultant hunger than eating something that came out of the very waters that surround them? This is a rhetorical question, so you don't need to actually try to think of a better way, unless you really feel like you have to, in which case keep it to yourself. The whole premise of this introduction is that there isn't a better way, and I don't need you ruining it for me, smartypants. Anyway, I digress. Sand eels weren't on the menu anywhere, so I'm still unclear as to why these appeal so much to the Puffins we had spent the last couple of hours gawping at. What I can recommend however, are the fish and chips at Neptune, which are right on the money.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Lovely things to do #1: Get a boat to the Farne Islands

Ahoyhoy, and welcome to the first in an occasional series of posts here on Patchy Growth which are related directly neither to eating out or our allotment, but are still, I think, worth noting for one reason or another. I'm calling it "Lovely things to do". You know how when you go to work on a Monday and someone's all like, "hey, I did this lovely thing at the weekend", and then they tell you what they did and you think "hmm, maybe I'll do that sometime"? Well, that's the kind of thing that'll be going on here. There are literally loads of things to do, so I doubt I'll ever run out of ammo for these pieces. When a man tires of things to do, he is tired of life, as the poet once said. Well, I'm not tired; I'm full of vim and raring to go. Let's do this!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

A lunch to end all lunches: Cal's Own, Jesmond

One man and his restaurant
I somehow managed to miss my twitter invite to the opening of the new Cal's Own in Jesmond. Gutted, I was. The only positive to come out of the whole debacle is that I've gotten a whole lot better at checking my Twitter DMs as a result. We've been in since and I need scarcely tell you how brilliant the Neapolitan pizzas are (especially that margherita), but anyway, they completely bloody are. They're definitely on a par with anything we tried when in Naples last year. When I got another message off Cal on the Twitter asking if Kasia and I fancied swinging by for a "tasting of treats", I definitely did. I had assumed, fairly, I think, that this would involve pizza. The fact that we sat for four hours stuffing ourselves but didn't consume a single slice serves notice of just what a great place to eat this already is, but also, excitingly, of how it may get even better over time. Here's what we had.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Super-fun allotment tour May 2016

Ahoy there! Partly to save me typing up a whole bunch of stuff and partly because it's about time, in 2016, that Patchy Growth went for full digital media integration, I took a quick video of our plot today. We spent four or so hours up there today and managed to get the place whipped pretty much into shape.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

New season's greetings

Ahoy there. You'd be forgiven for thinking we'd given up on the old allotment game, what with the complete dearth of gardening-related entries on this page. Not a bit of it! Although the fluctuating priorities of life have prevented us getting to the plot - never mind writing about it - as much as I'd like things, are still happening. Now that that we're at the point in the year at which stuff is starting to grow, I'll show you what we've got going on so far.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Restaurant Review: Horvath, Berlin

It makes a nice change, in these days of insta-everything, to head out for a fancy dinner with no real idea of what you're likely to be fed. Such were the conditions of the meal that provided the crescendo to our recent trip to Berlin.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A (very) late postcard from Campania, pt II: Positano and Naples

I was determined that we would get seaborne at some point of our stay on the Amalfi coast, but with just a couple of days before heading back to Naples it looked like this plan might be scuppered. It seems that the weather really doesn't have to be that bad at all to get the ferries that scurry between the various harbours along the coastline to down tools. What breeze that there was abated enough on our last full day in Ravello to encourage us to get the bus down to Amalfi town, and take a boat trip to Positano.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Restaurant Review: La Caravella, Amalfi

Nothing prepares the appetite for a fine lunch quite like being in the presence of the the bones of a bona-fide saint. Actually I've got no idea if this is true, but it didn't seem to do us any harm. After having staggered down the endless steps from Ravello to Amalfi we had spare time ahead of our appointment at La Caravella, which we killed with a brief mooch round the Cathedral.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

A (very) late postcard from Campania, pt I: Vietri and Ravello

Balcony #1
It feels a bit odd to be writing about a trip we were on nearly three months ago, but what the hell, here goes. In any case it beats banging on about not drinking for a month, or whatever, and a blast of sunshine in these dark months is surely not unwelcome. It sort of felt like like a lucid dream then, so I doubt if the intervening time will prevent me from recalling anything very important, especially as the thing that would be most worth getting across anyhow isn't anything factual, but just the feel of the place. Kasia and I had just under a couple of weeks in Campania, or, to be more precise, the Amalfi Coast and Naples. Be in no doubt, this is a sensationally beautiful and completely beguiling part of the world and we loved it, eating and drinking our heads off along the way. Here's some of what happened.

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