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The sun was shining and the icicles were starting to melt this morning when I went down the garden.  But there’s a fiercely cold wind blowing and snow forecast for later.  The hens have learned this week that rushing out of the coop as soon as it’s opened up on a morning, as they usually do, is not wise in sub-zero temperatures.  Better to check that breakfast is worth braving the cold for before leaving the shelter.

Snow on cardoon

It’s a day for indoor jobs.  No, not the housework (time for that later) – first a bit of seed sowing and some winter cooking.  I love getting the first seeds sown each year, then waiting to see any sign of the green shoots appearing from the soil.  I sow chilli seed in January, partly to give them as long a growing season as possible, and partly in case they don’t germinate, so there is still time to make another sowing.  Last year a lot of the chilli seeds didn’t germinate, most of them were quite old, maybe that was the reason.  This time I’ve got fresh seed and fresh compost, oh and fingers crossed.  I’ve sown three pots – ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’, ‘Ancho Poblano’ and some serrano seeds that came with the bill when we had lunch at Wahaca in London at Christmas.

Next, I’ve been meaning to make a starter to use in my bread making for some time now.  Not sure that choosing a freezing cold day is wise – yeast tends to like warmth to get going, but like the chilli seeds, if it doesn’t work  I can always try again.  I’ve decided to make a rye starter for a first attempt, the Bourke Street Bakery book says that this is easier to get going than a white starter.  So far, so simple – organic rye flour and water mixed, wrapped and being left overnight.  Normally, I’d make something like this and only write about it if it was successful.  But I’m thinking that by putting it on the blog now, I’m committed to taking care of it and remembering to feed it regularly.  At the moment it looks like a bowl of very unappetising porridge, but there should be a photo of a delicious homemade rye loaf here in a few weeks time – remind me if I forget!

Lemon, chilli and herbs

And the last thing for now is a bowl of rich, warming tomato and rosemary soup, zinged up with a little chilli and preserved lemon.  It was quick and easy to make and a very welcome lunch on a cold day.

Tomato soup

Tomato & Rosemary Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 stick celery, chopped

1 400g tin peeled plum tomatoes

1 sprig rosemary, plus 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 bay leaf

250ml vegetable stock

pinch of red chilli flakes – how big a pinch depends on how much heat you want

2 tsp chopped preserved lemon skin (rinse the lemon well first)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium pan.  Add the chopped onion and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes without browning.  Add the garlic and celery, stir well and cook gently for another 5 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaf, stock and chilli flakes to the onion mix and simmer the soup for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf and rosemary.  Blend the soup until smooth.  Return to the pan, add the chopped rosemary and preserved lemon.  Season, if needed, with salt and pepper.  Reheat the soup before serving.

I’m linking this recipe to a new blog challenge – Weekend Kitchen Creations run by Jenny of The Jenny Evolution.