What to do with pumpkins – chutney

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I don’t really want to harvest all my pumpkins too soon, I want to have a few left for Halloween but they are ripening up thick and fast in this warm, early autumn weather. I roasted most of the last one and made some soup (based on this one but with added lentils) but quite a lot of that is still in the freezer.

The second of our eight fruits came home at the weekend and it was about the same size as the first – 7kg! Time to make some chutney.

It’s two years since we had a major chutney making session. I don’t know how many jars we made but we’ve been eating my favourite dark, sticky rhubarb chutney ever since. I’ve adapted the recipe to use up some of my pumpkin. It seems to have worked well but I can’t promise that it is perfect because you can’t really test a chutney until it’s matured for  month or two.

The most time consuming part of making chutney is the chopping up. It can’t really be avoided though and unless you particularly want chunky chutney, you have to spend the time finely dicing your fruit and vegetables. The pumpkin seems to hold it’s shape surprisingly well, considering how easy it is to mash when it is steamed. The picture below is the ‘before’.

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Ingredients

450g Dark Brown Sugar

1kg of finely diced pumpkin. This is the weight after it has been peeled and chopped

450g chopped cooking apples

450g sultanas

450g finely diced onion

2 lemons – remove the zest and chop, remove the pips then finely chop the rest of the lemon

25g ground ginger

25g salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

700ml white wine or cider vinegar.

Put all the ingredients into a large preserving pan and heat gently. Continue to cook, allowing the mixture to bubble gently until the liquid has reduced significantly. This will take a couple of hours but you shouldn’t need to give it a lot of attention, just the occasional stir to make sure that nothing is sticking.

To test whether the chutney is done, draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If the mixture stays parted for a few seconds and you can see the base, it has probably reduced enough. The picture below is the ‘after’ picture. It’s not particularly attractive but it does taste good.

When the chutney is almost done, prepare your jars. I always use recycled glass jars which I wash well, stand upright in a roasting tin and put in the oven for about 15 minutes at just over 100C to sterilise them. I also wash the lids, checking that none of them are damaged and then stand them in a pan of boiling water.

Fill the hot jars with the warm chutney using a jam funnel, taking care not to get burned!

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And if you’ve still got lots of pumpkin left, roast some more and make spiced coconut and pumpkin stew.

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Autumn time begins in the allotment

My allotment is a disgrace. You can’t really tell from these photos because I’ve been very selective. You may note the lack of wide angle shots…

However, parts of it are thriving. The courgettes continue to grow at a fantastic pace. I can’t make them into cakes fast enough, even though I quadruple the recipe and make four loaves at a time. I’m on the lookout for the perfect chocolate courgette cake so if you’ve got any ideas about where I can find it, let me know.

IMG_2174 We’ve been really successful with pumpkins over the last two years. They are the ideal plant for me because they suddenly put on a lot of growth in late July and August, just at a time when I don’t get much opportunity for gardening. They are so big and prolific that their leaves seem to suppress a lot of weeds. Except for the ever present nasturtiums, of course.

IMG_2153 In my opinion, we have a nasturtium problem in our patch. Just like the pumpkins, they also have a tendency to take over in July and August when I take my eye off the ball. At this time of year, before any frosts, they are at their height. The Husband insists that there are worse weeds we could have and I suppose he is right. They are not particularly difficult to rip out, unlike the creeping buttercup and bindweed I’m currently wrestling with as I clear the onion patch. They are just very, very good at self seeding.

But, they are pretty. The bees love them and we can harvest them too.

IMG_1883IMG_1579The leeks are one area that I have managed to weed. Don’t look at the edges of the picture though. In hindsight, I wish I’d grown more leeks to see us through winter. Maybe next year. So far they seem to be pretty low maintenance plants, which is a priority for me.

IMG_2148 This is the chard patch. Another easy to grow, low maintenance vegetable that I have been adding to curries instead of spinach. I think I am more in love with how it looks than how it tastes, to be honest, but, I just keep thinking about how healthy it must be. It should stand all winter, being resistant to frost. A perfect cut and come again crop.

IMG_2146 I have managed a few meals from my climbing french beans. I think I will need to start these off earlier next year. It seems that they are just beginning to grow well. This is the most success I’ve ever had with climbing french beans so I’m pretty happy.

IMG_2147 I succumbed to buying some plug plants from the local garden centre a week or two ago. I never got around to raising any purple sprouting broccoli or kale earlier in the summer but I really want to eat some in spring. I don’t normally like buying these kind of plants, it feels like cheating. However, I’ve got clear ground and I want it to be filled. I’ll just have to do better next time.

IMG_2144 Some of the cabbages I sowed in the spring have survived my lack of attention and the surplus of attention from the slugs and cabbage white butterflies. They are now growing well. I’d better start planning how I’m going to encourage the children to eat them. I’m hoping my mulch works. It is made up of dead grass that I pulled up from elsewhere in the plot. Using waste as a mulch? Will it work? Time will tell.

IMG_2142 The autumn raspberries are starting to ripen up but they are few and far between. I think they are still getting established in their new position and they are also a bit swamped by a vast carpet of nasturtiums. There are usually just enough for a little treat after a hard afternoon of weeding.

IMG_1891The start of September was very sunny, as it often is just as the summer holidays come to an end. As the children returned to school and nursery I returned to my routine of trying to get to the allotment more regularly. Having that little bit of space to dig and weed and plant and just sit in the sun is a real pleasure.

One day as I sat I was aware of lots of buzzing. The enormous flowering weed plant next to me was full of hoverflies busy sucking up all the nectar it had to offer. If I was a real gardener I wouldn’t have let this plant get so big, never mind flower. But, after spending time watching and trying to photograph all the insects I didn’t have the heart to chop it down.

IMG_1914Our sunflowers seem to be reaching their peak now, the tallest one is over 7ft.

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These too attract the insects. There is something very appealing about watching a big, fluffy, bumble bee work it’s way across a sunflower head, probing each tiny flower for nectar.

IMG_2163I’m so glad I managed to plant some sunflowers. They are such happy plants. When the bees have had all the food they can get and the flowers have faded, the birds can take over and enjoy the seeds.

IMG_2190Autumn is slowly starting to make it’s presence felt. The autumn equinox was a day or two ago and my last few visits to the allotment have been in cooler weather. The mornings I have visited have been still and slightly misty with the damp air highlighting numerous, silky spiders webs.

The elderberries I could reach have been harvested and the birds are stripping the rest of the tree. Rose hips and other berries are brightening up the hedges as the leaves slowly begin to change and fall.

IMG_1790The garden is fading from green to brown.

IMG_1802 IMG_1892Autumn begins.

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Summer holidays 2014

It’s been a while since I updated my space here. I know holiday photos are boring but this is mainly for me and my family archive. If you want to see some happy pictures, feel free to read on.

Our holidays started with a trip to Shap to take part in the 2014 ‘Total Warrior’ 10km muddy obstacle race. This is the ‘before’ picture.

IMG_1539This is one of the most energy sapping obstacles we did. The Husband and I are smack bang in the middle of this photo. I’m the one up to my chest in mud. I was very grateful to swim through a river shortly after this! The weather was dreadful, which didn’t make much difference to us as competitors but it wasn’t much fun for spectators.

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Fortunately, things improved the day we drove to Beddgelert in North Wales. The mountain you can see in the distance is Snowdon, the highest in Wales and England. This was taken from in front of our caravan, which was parked at Cae Du campsite, a site that prides itself in providing a peaceful, quiet environment. Driving the caravan there wasn’t an experience for the faint hearted but Beddgelert proved to be a good base for exploring Snowdonia.

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One of our first days out was to Criccieth, a little coastal town which had everything you could want (except perhaps sand). We found a patch of sheltered pebbly beach and settled in to eat freshly fried chips. We spent the rest of the afternoon building rock caves instead of sand castles. I could have spent a few days here as there seemed to be a high street filled with delightful, independent shops but I never got any closer than admiring them from the car. There was also a cute little castle close to the beach but we never made it to that either, we were contended enough on the beach.

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Caenarfon Castle however, was unmissable. It is truly spectacular. There were so many towers and turrets to explore that we spent hours there. You need plenty of stamina and a head for heights. Climbing the towers gives wonderful views over the town, the Menai Straights and the mountains of Snowdonia.

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This is the view from the Snowdon Mountain Railway. There aren’t many mountains you can ascend by rail in the UK but Snowdon is one of them. It was very expensive for us to do this trip as a family of five so we were very grateful for mostly good views. The summit was cloudy, cold and windy but I suppose that was a good experience too. Our children now know how true it is when people say that the conditions can change quickly in the mountains.

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We did have some rainy days during our holiday. This photo was taken the day that the remains of Hurricane Bertha passed over. Apart from putting the storm straps on the awning, it didn’t affect us too much. We just settled in with games and crafts and eventually dodged the showers for a walk to the village.

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Another of our days out was to Plas Newydd, a stately home on the Anglesea side of the Menai Straits. The estate is owned by the National Trust, who have made their properties very family friendly in recent years. Our children generally enjoy the quizzes that the NT provide and the Plas Newydd experience was no different. They also took full advantage of the playground and happily explored the terrace and formal gardens. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me because although I’d never really visited the house or gardens before, I stayed at the adjacent outdoor education centre a few times when I was a biology teacher. I used to visit with the 6th form on their field trips and we spent many an hour foraging in the seaweed on the shore below the house.

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Snowdonia has some fabulous coastline. This picture was taken at Nefyn on the Llyn Peninsula. The colours and the light are a wonderful combination of blues, greens, browns and white. We got quite a taste for swimming in the sea, with the beach at Llandanwg, near Harlech having water that seemed surprisingly warm.

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Harlech and Nefyn both had great sandcastle sand too.

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In truth, we could have spent a lot of time just exploring the area around the campsite and Beddgelert. This lake was a short, easy walk away along a quiet lane and scenic footpath.

IMG_1433 IMG_1452 IMG_1455 But, North Wales has plenty of attractions too and and we couldn’t resist another rail trip from Beddgelert to Porth Madoc on the Welsh Highland Railway, a narrow gauge railway that runs North to Caenarfon too.

IMG_1463 We could have spent lots more time exploring North Wales but our time was up after 11 nights. We had a pressing deadline. The Middle Miss wanted to be home in time for her seventh birthday. However, staying on a site with tents stimulated a short camping trip over the August bank holiday weekend. I told Son Number One that I was never camping again and that if he wanted to I was happy to keep paying his subs at cubs. The Husband fancied a trip though and planned to take the older two children to a site near Robin Hood’s Bay, which is just an hour away down the coast. I hummed and ahhed about joining them and eventually I felt sorry for Babykins, who was going to be left behind if I didn’t go. Luckily, it was a great trip on a pleasant site with plenty of sunshine.

IMG_1633 On the Saturday, The Husband, Son Number One and The Middle Miss embarked on a bike ride from Hawsker to Ravenscar, the same trip that we did last September with the local scouts.

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Babykins and I explored Robin Hood’s Bay itself.

IMG_1647 IMG_1672 IMG_1670 IMG_1668 IMG_1655IMG_1698 It’s an incredibly photogenic place but I just haven’t captured it. The houses appear to be piled on top of each other and cling to the sides of a steep road down to the harbour.

IMG_1669 Everything about it is quaint and picturesque.

IMG_1674 As you can see from the picture below, fishing is still a big part of the town’s activities.

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I didn’t know it had it’s own sea monster!

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Mainly, I think, it’s a place to make happy holiday memories…

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What to do with left over egg whites?

Last week I finally made some gooseberry ice cream. The recipe I use calls for egg yolks, but not the whites. Unfortunately I miscalculated the quantities I was making so when all the ice cream was packed away in the freezer, I had eight egg whites to use up.

IMG_1012Lemon meringue pie? Making a pastry case is too much effort.

Lots of egg white omelettes? Nice, but no good if you want to use them all up at once.

Angel food cake or some other whipped cake? Apparently the egg whites need to be at room temperature for a good result and mine were chilled.

Coconut haystacks? Just the thing, quick, easy and I happen to have bought a large amount of desiccated coconut recently.

This recipe is from a children’s cook book we were given a few years ago. I don’t feel too guilty about repeating it as it is a pretty generic, basic recipe. It does lend itself to baking with children because the whisking and mixing are pretty straightforward.

Coconut Macaroons

The basic ingredients are egg white, caster sugar and desiccated coconut.

I will give you the quantities for one egg white and you can multiply it up depending upon how many you need to use up.

1 egg white, 35g caster sugar, 70g desiccated coconut. This should make about seven.

Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Whisk the caster sugar in a third at a time. Your mixture should now be quite shiny. Gently fold in the coconut using a metal spoon and a figure of eight motion trying to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

Mould the mixture into heaps using an egg cup, removing them with a tea spoon. They should hold their shape well when cooked so you can fit quite a few on a baking tray at a time. We bake ours on a good quality non-stick tray but you could line a regular tray with some parchment. In either case a very light coating of oil will reduce the risk of them sticking.

Bake them for 15 minutes at 140C or gas mark 3. They should be golden brown on top when done. Lift them off using a spatula or palette knife and place them on a cooling rack.

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When they are cool, melt some chocolate by breaking it up and placing it in a bowl resting on top of a pan of boiling water. Either dip the macaroons into the melted chocolate so that half is covered or drizzle them with lines of melted chocolate.  Leave to cool again on a piece of greaseproof paper.

IMG_1063Enjoy as a gluten free treat with your coffee.

 

Three and a half

Family life is constantly changing. It seems like no time since I was feeling cooped up and frustrated with a toddler who needed lots of entertaining.

IMG_0480But now my boy is three and a half and has the privilege of five afternoons a week in school nursery and two mornings in playgroup. We only really share Monday and Thursday mornings and they are wonderful. Often we just potter about together on the allotment, weeding, watering, picking and planting. We cycle there and back, usually stopping at the nearby play area for a bit of climbing, swinging and pretending to be pirates and sharks.

IMG_0822Occasionally we’ve been to visit the birds at Saltholme or the seals just a bit further up the road. Sometimes we do errands, popping to the shops, the bank, the library or the post office. It’s low stress, low pressure and usually just me and him.

I’ve never had so much freedom to enjoy the company of someone who is three and a half. When Son Number one was three and a half he was very ill and we were dealing with leukaemia. What’s more, he had a baby sister to divide my attention. When she was three and a half, Babykins came along and my attention was divided again. I feel quite sad that I can barely remember what my older two children were like at this age.

When they were little I would have looked for organised activities or arranged to meet up with friends but now I’m happy just to be alone together. I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to enjoy the company of other adults when small children are around is actually quite hard work. I know that at a different stage in my life I would have needed the kind of support that only other parents can offer. I would have needed a place to go to get out of the house. But that stage has passed. For this short period of time, I’m really happy and contented to share it with Babykins.

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#Mumstylist

My daughter is blessed with the kind of lustrous locks that I can only dream about: long, thick, blonde and easily waved or curled. I’ve been combing (see what I did there) through Pinterest to find new styles for her. You can take a look at my board here.

Sometimes, hairstyling is a struggle. It is inevitably a rushed experience as we try to meet the 8.30 a.m. deadline on school days. Despite that, I think I do quite a god job. You might well ask why I bother with fancy styles but I want to enjoy her beautiful hair while she is still young enough to need me to be involved. I want her to look neat and tidy for school too and we often resort to a simple ponytail or plaits.

You can see my efforts on Instagram, via the hashtag #Mumstylist.

How do you style your daughters hair and do you enjoy the experience? Join in with the hashtag on Instagram if you want to. I’d love to see what other Mums do.

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The best and easiest ice cream ever

strawberry ice creamThis recipe came from my sister-in-law and like most of the recipes we use in this house, it is quick, easy and adaptable. For the basic ice cream you will need:

Half a pint of double cream

400g tin of condensed (sticky) milk

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful that you don’t over whip the cream as it can turn to butter in the blink of an eye. Fold the condensed milk into the cream and freeze.

That is it. No churning or mixing. Just freeze.

Now, the fun thing about this recipe is that you can flavour it in so many ways. My sister-in-law usually adds crushed crunchy bars to her ice cream so that was one of the first additions we tried. The combination of smooth ice cream and sweet, crispy, toasted sugar is delicious. Here are some of the other variations we have tried.

Chopped up After Eight mints (a bit like eating the mint Vienetta of my 80′s youth)

Chopped caramel bars (not so good – the caramel is too sticky).

Rum and raisin. The raisins were soaked in warm rum first and then folded in. Delicious.

Lemon curd. I think The Husband mixed some lemon curd right into the cream and he also  added some lemon ‘ripples’. Also delicious

Strawberry jam. As lemon, above and just as successful.

You can also adapt this recipe to use up excess fruit. For example, I’ve harvested over 15kg of strawberries in the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying eating them on breakfast cereal, with clotted cream and scones and in smoothies but mainly, I’ve been making jam. However, one of my batches of jam never quite made it to the setting stage so I sieved it using my new/old vintage Kenwood mouli attachment and used it in a batch of ice cream. You could get a similar effect by using fresh strawberries. In fact, I used this recipe a few years ago and it was very good. It’s the same basic recipe as I got from my sister-in-law.

If I ever get around to picking the many gooseberries in our allotment I may try that variation too.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this recipe. It’s not exactly healthy, but you only need a little bit of it for a very indulgent treat.

P.S. It’s too good for children.