Tomato risotto with butter beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes. 

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

25g butter 

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice 

1 tin chopped tomatoes 

 
Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir well, frequently or it will stick.

Old Year, New Year

It’s the time of year to reflect and to plan. I know I am a bit late with this, as it’s the start of February but I have lost my blogging mojo a bit. I made a serious error at the end of last year and deleted all the photos from my blog. I’m slowly trying to add them again but it takes time and it’s thrown me a bit. If you go to older posts, all of the photos are gone. I almost decided to give up on this project but I have lots of happy memories stored here. It’ll take time but I’ll get everything sorted out eventually.

So, onto reflecting and planning. This is a relatively new experience for me. Last year was the first time I consciously made any ‘resolutions’ for the year ahead. On the whole I’m pleased about how things turned out. Some of the things I wanted to do were run, knit, sew and grow…

1. Run 

IMG_0250I started training last January and progressed really well. I wouldn’t say that I am a committed and converted runner but it was satisfying to see how quickly I could build up my distance. Ultimately I completed my goal – the 10km ‘Total Warrior’ course that my husband had done the year before. I am back in training because I want to do it again. I also want to do the Great North Run, if I can get a place.

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2. Knit

After stocking up at the inaugural Yarndale in September 2013, I had a fabulous stash of yarn. Some of it really, really needed to be worked with needles, not a hook. I started my knitting adventures this year by casting on my first pair of socks. It did NOT go well to start with. This picture is actually the second sock, which I managed without my Mum, unlike the first one.IMG_9362Once I got the hang of holding the needles I began to LOVE sock knitting. Just going round and round doing plain old knit stitch is quite mesmerising. I found that working in variegated yarn was very helpful as a beginner. It’s much easier to identify and put mistakes right when each row is a different colour. My first socks were done in a non-traditional way with an ‘afterthought’ heel which was also knitted ’round and round’ and a toe done in a similar way. I had no idea how to pick up the stitches for the heel but I found a YouTube tutorial and away I went. When it comes to learning new knitting skills, Google and YouTube are your friends. IMG_9539I was ridiculously pleased with my first pair of socks and cast on pair two, this time in rainbow colours for my daughter.

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This time I wanted to learn how to turn a heel in the traditional way. I took my socks on holiday with me and put up with much joking about how much it would cost to pay me to make socks. If I was charging by the hour, they’d be very expensive socks.

IMG_9820IMG_0007Not only did I ‘turn’ the heel, I also managed to complete the toe with grafting or ‘Kitchener stitch’, thanks to this tutorial by Sarah, over at Continuum Mama.

Sarah also helped me learn another skill this year. She kindly gave me a live tutorial via Skype in which I learned the basics of intarsia. In other words, I learned to change the colour of my yarn and knit a coloured pattern. She choose a simple heart pattern centred into a wash cloth. It was a great first project and made a cute little birthday present for my great aunt.

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Spurred on by the success of these projects my current WIP combines sock knitting and intarsia. I’m not going to share it yet though as it is going to be another gift.

One of my more expensive purchases at Yarndale was some fluffy, fine kid mohair from Northumbrian producers, Whistlebare. I really only bought the yarn because I loved the free scarf pattern that came with it. I wasn’t at all sure that I would ever be able to knit it as  another new skill was required (using a circular needle) and the pattern clearly stated that it was not for beginners. I eventually plucked up the courage to cast on the required 216 stitches, carefully marking every 20 stitches. I did NOT want to start creating the pattern and find I had cast on the wrong number.

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Creating the ‘daisy’ pattern was a challenge. I couldn’t make any sense of the pattern and neither could my local knitting friends. Of course the great thing about the internet and dealing with small producers is that a couple of emails later, all my questions were answered by the pattern designer herself.

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Job done!

3. Sew

My Mum has always sewed, on and off and it’s something I’ve always felt I should be able to do. I got put off as a child because my Mum’s sewing machine was very temperamental. I usually ended up jamming it up in great twists of thread that had to be hacked at and fought from the teeth of the machine. Now she has a much easier to use modern machine that helpfully beeps at you when you do something stupid, like try to sew with the presser foot up.

I’ve also realised that I am a person who likes to do things by the book. I like instructions and I like to know that I am doing things the right way. Mum, it turns out, is much more instinctive and learned a lot just by watching her Mum. I do not work that way and am probably a nightmare to teach.

Earlier in the year, inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I decided I would make some pyjamas for Son Number One. I trawled the internet looking for a pattern that was simple enough but still looked like a traditional pair of button up pyjamas. This is what I settled for

Next I hunted in all the local charity shops for the fabric. Call me cheap but I had this idea that an old duvet could be ideal material for pyjama making. I wanted something soft, simply patterned and mostly cotton. I’m pleased to say that I managed to buy the fabric and make the PJ’s in time for the local show in September. I entered them into the ‘up cycled garment’ class and won first prize! It only took about five months from start to finish!IMG_1955 IMG_1956Later in the year I decided to make another garment, also using recycled fabric. The day my Mum and I went to Yarndale, we had a trip around the charity shops of Skipton. Mum was very taken with the print on this curtain and promptly bought it.

IMG_2282We then spotted this tunic in Joules and thought we could make something similar.

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So here is the pattern I chose

IMG_2273It turned out well but I must admit I haven’t worn it much yet. I need something to put under it for winter and I haven’t found a top the right colour yet.

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I’m pretty pleased with how my sewing skills have come on this year. I  think the most important thing I learned was that if you don’t measure yourself carefully you will probably make the wrong size. I generally wear a UK size 12 when I buy from the shops but I think I ended up making the size 16 on this pattern.

4. Gardening

My final aim for 2014 was to get into the allotment more and grow more of out own food. I don’t think I did a spectacular job of that. My biggest failing is letting pests get out of control. I’m not keen on slug pellets so I need to find another way to get rid of these beasties.

The things that did the best were the usual suspects: onions, courgettes, pumpkins, strawberries and gooseberries. My cabbages and broccoli survived but mainly by good luck. The sweetcorn also grew well and produced cobs of corn but I couldn’t seem to harvest them at the right moment – they were either under or over ripe. I’m hoping that some of them might still be useable for popcorn.

onions hanging in shed full grown sweetcorn purple sprouting broccoli psb cabbages and grass mulch growing cabbageIMG_4991IMG_1038chardcolourful harvest leeks chard beetrootopen pea pod

This year I’m going to try and produce more flowers.

sunflowers in vase I really enjoyed having a few homegrown blooms at home last season so I have planted a few rows of alium, tulip and iris bulbs though at the moment it looks more like I am growing canes with bottles on top.

spring bulb collage

It seems unbelievable that it will soon be time to start sowing and growing again. The months and years tick around so quickly. One month of 2015 has gone already.

So, what will 2015 hold? More of the same I hope. My training runs are well under way, I’ve got a special intarsia project on my knitting needles, I’m sure more pyjamas will be required soon and I’ll have to check my seed stocks before long.

I hope your 2015 is going well so far and your New Year Resolutions have lasted into February.

 

 

What to do with pumpkins – chutney

pumpkins glowing in autumn lightI 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.

inside a pumpkin

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’.

pumpkin chutney before

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!

bottling chutney with funnel

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

pumpkin stew

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…IMG_1885

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.

sunny pumpkin patch and sunflowers

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_1847 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.pale yellow nasturtiumnasturtium pesto

The 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_2148This 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.

chard

climbing french beans 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.

plug plants 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_2142 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_1891 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.

The 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_1859IMG_1914Our sunflowers seem to be reaching their peak now, the tallest one is over 7ft.

IMG_2262These 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_2190I’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.

Autumn 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.

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IMG_1792The garden is fading from green to brown.

IMG_1789Autumn begins.IMG_1803

 

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.before total warrior 14This 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.total warrior 14 in the mudFortunately, 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. View of Snowdon from CampsiteOne 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.Sea at Cricceth North WalesCaenarfon 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.Canaerfon CastleThis 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.View from SnowdonWe 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.Indoor games caravan Wet Wales hillsidesAnother 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.Garden at Plas Newyyd AngleseaSnowdonia 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.Ready for swimming Into the Sea North WalesHarlech and Nefyn both had great sandcastle sand too.

Sandcastles 2014In 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.Paddling in lake near Beddgellert Beddgellert scenery lane at BeddgellertBut, 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.Dragon bench on Welsh Highland RailwayWe 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.tent set up camping camping tea timeOn 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.


Coastline from RavenscarBabykins and I explored Robin Hood’s Bay itself.

IMG_1698IMG_1670IMG_1668IMG_1655IMG_1652IMG_1651IMG_1645IMG_1644 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.

robin hoods bay housesEverything about it is quaint and picturesque.

old bike at robin hood's bay

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

lobster pots robin hood's bay

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

sea monster robin hood's bay

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

memory bench robin hood's bay

 

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.

whisked egg white

Lemon 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.

coconut haystacks or macaroons

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.

coconut haystacks macaroons chocolate

Enjoy 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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