Spring Break

Hi everyone! 

Just a quick post to let you know that I’m taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks.  Lil’ L breaks up from school tomorrow and M’s taking 2 weeks off work.  I’ve decided that I’m going to leave the computer and internet switched off for these 2 weeks and spend quality time with the family with no distractions 😉

I look forward to catching up with you all on my return to blogging world.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful picture, drawn by two beautiful girls during my last Wednesday Workshop of the Spring term.

Have a wonderful Spring break everyone! xx

Sunshine, Veggies & Sport Relief!

Hi everyone!  I hope you’re having a great week so far! 🙂

What glorious weather we’re having here in the UK!  What with the clocks going forward on Sunday, the lighter evenings and warm sunshine, it feels like we’ve entered Summer rather than Spring.

The magnolia tree by our front door is now in full bloom.

I love the blossom on these trees. Yet another beautiful sight of Spring!

We spent the whole weekend outside, enjoying the good weather.  On Saturday, we went to the market town of Devizes in Wiltshire and had a lovely lunch sitting outside the Little House of Coffee, in the Market Place.  The town was buzzing with activity and had such a great vibe.  The people here are so friendly!

[Source]

We then popped to see friends in the village of Seend Cleeve and had a great time catching up with them whilst sunning ourselves in their garden.  Is this seriously March?  If feels more like July!

On Sunday morning, M, Lil’ L and I took part in the Sport Relief Mile in Victoria Park Bath.  It’s the first charity running event that we’ve completed as a family and it was so much fun! 

We’ve raised about £100, which we’ll be sending off to join the other £54 million + that has been raised so far for this very worthwhile cause. 

Huge respect for John Bishop who cycled, ran and rowed over 295 miles from Paris to London in five days to raise money for Sport Relief.  Talk about guts and determination.  So far he’s raised over £3.4 million.  What a guy!  And he’s vegetarian!  Ha ha, had to get that one in there 😉  You can read about John’s “Week of Hell” here.  After seeing what John went through, never again will I complain if I get a stitch when I’m out on one of my little 4 mile runs!

Sunday afternoon we did some work in the garden, and I started to have a think about what to plant this year.  We’ve always struggled to grow veggies because of the billions of slugs, snails and other little critters that live here.  Rather than making the same mistakes over again, I thought it would be a good idea to start with a review of how our veggie growing attempts have gone this past year. 

To be honest, it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped… 

I’ll start with the disasters…

1. Tomatoes
We grew about 12 plants (10 from seed). We grew them in pots, grobags and some directly in the ground.  It looked promising, and we actually had little green tomatoes growing on the plants.

Then disaster struck.  We had so much rain last August that all the plants got blight and went black & mouldy. 
Yield: zero edible tomatoes 🙁

2. Courgette (zucchini)
I grew one courgette plant in a pot.  It started to get eaten by slugs, snails and wood lice, so I ended up bringing it into the back porch every night.  It then got covered in black fly.

But then a ladybird took up residence on the plant and the black fly were gone.  The plant produced the most beautiful flowers and 3 lovely little courgettes started to appear on the plant.

As soon as we got back from our holiday in August, I rushed into the garden to see how my ‘pet’ courgette was doing… only to discover that the plant was covered in earwigs happily munching away on my little veggies 🙁
Yield: half a courgette

3.  Butternut squashes
I grew the squashes from seed and planted them out in the raised beds that M had spent hours making for me.  I covered the plants with bell cloches to protect them while they were small.

As soon as the bell cloches were removed…. the slugs descended!  Night after night, come rain or shine, I went to the veggie patch and removed the slugs.  In one night, I picked up 40!  There were 2 toads resident on the veggie patch and even they couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of slugs.

The gravel round the raised beds didn’t deter the slugs (instead it just attracted cat poo 🙁 ).  We put copper tape round the top of the wooden border, and that didn’t work either.  I tried putting strong smelling plants (like rosemary) round the edge, again no luck.

Yield: zero squashes.  Most of the flowers got eaten before the squashes had a chance to grow.  About 5 little squashes did appear… but they got eaten too!

4. Sweetcorn
We grew the sweetcorn from seed and had 5 plants that were strong enough to plant out.  As soon as the sweetcorns started to appear, most of them got eaten by slugs/snails and earwigs.

Yield: 4 very small sweetcorns.  They were delicious, but took us about 2 minutes to eat.

5. Gooseberries
We bought two gooseberry bushes.  They were covered in spikes so I didn’t imagine that they would be eaten.  Wrong!  Even though we kept them in pots, every single green shoot on the plants got eaten by slugs/snails!

Let’s move onto the successes now…

6. Flat leaf parsley
Last summer I sprinkled some parsley seeds into a pot… and they grew beautifully!  The plant is still going strong now 🙂  Slugs and snails don’t go near it.  It requires very little care; just the occasional watering. I did bring it into the back porch over the winter, but it’s back outside now. 

Yield: Since last summer, I’ve been using this parsley in my cooking and for garnishes.  As soon as you cut it, it seems to shoot up again.  Such a great plant!

7. Basil
Last Spring I sprinkled basil seeds into old yoghurts pots and was amazed how quickly they started to grow.  I transferred the plants into larger pots and put them on the dining room window sill.  They were really easy to look after, looked beautiful, and smelt wonderful as you brushed past them.

Yield: I had so much fresh basil that I made my own home-made pesto throughout the Spring and early Summer. We also used the basil in pasta dishes and for tomato & basil salads. 

Before we went on holiday in August, I froze a huge bag of basil leaves, and it was a good job that I did.  The plants had to be left in the garden whilst we were away and, on our return, we found them totally munched and covered in white fly 🙁

8. Rosemary
The rosemary bush has been at our house longer than us!  Slugs/snails leave it alone.  It survives all weather conditions.  The perfect low maintenance plant! 

Yield:  A never ending supply of fresh rosemary which I use in cooking and bread making.

9. Lemon Balm
I planted this in the raised bed in the orchard and the slugs/snails leave it alone.  I haven’t used it in my cooking yet, but I’ll be looking out for some recipes shortly.

10. Kale
We filled Lil’ L’s old sand pit with compost, placed it up on our summer house deck and attempted to grow some kale in it.  Shortly after it started growing, a large batch of caterpillars arrived and ate most of the leaves.  About half of the plants survived… and they’re still going strong now.

Yield: We’ve got about 3 scarlet kale plants that are still producing lots of leaves.  

11. Apples
We had a huge bounty of apples last Autumn.  Literally hundreds 🙂

 Even the tiny apple tree in our rockery grew lots of lovely eating apples 🙂

For months, we didn’t have to buy a single apple from the supermarket.  We enjoyed lots of apple compotes, apple crumbles, and apple pancakes.

In an attempt to overwinter the apples, M made this ventilated storage system which we filled with the best apples.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I was still using surplus apples that we’ d stacked in an old cardboard box.  You can imagine how delighted I was when I went to select one of our ‘finest’ apples from the storage system… only to find that the whole lot had been eaten by mice!  You gotta laugh!

12. Plums
Last Autumn we had the best crop of plums that we’ve ever had.  Literally hundreds!  The boughs were so laden with fruit that some of them unfortunately snapped.

I made sure that we didn’t waste a single plum.  I stewed big batches of them and put them in the freezer.  Plum compote is one of my most favourite desserts ever!  We finished our last batch of frozen plums only a few days ago.

Veggie growing plans 2012
Isn’t it just typical that the most success we had last year was with the plants that pretty much look after themselves… the apple and plum trees and the parsley!

This year, I’m not going to bother growing any veggies other than the kale.  I think the kale has got potential to work, but I  must remember to cover it with netting to try and prevent the caterpillars arriving.

I’d love to buy another fruit tree.  Perhaps a greengage? 

But mainly, I’m going to focus on herbs.  I’ll definitely be growing more parsley and basil.  I also bought these three little herbs from a charity sale in Lacock – thyme, sage and chocolate peppermint.

The chocolate peppermint smells wonderful!  I’m already looking forward to a cup of fresh chocolate mint tea! Yum!

Are you planning to grow any veggies, fruits, or herbs this year?  If so, I’d love to hear your plans.  Can you recommend any easy, low maintentance veggies that I should try? (preferably slug proof 😉 )

 

Delicious Orange & Almond Cake (Dairy-free & Vegan)

Inspired by the yummy orange and almond cake that I had at the Holburne Museum Garden Cafe last week, I thought I’d attempt to bake an orange and almond cake myself.

And guess what?  …

It wasn’t a flop!

Look, it’s even cake shape (unlike last week’s brownie gloop which I had to turn into a chocolate ‘pudding’).

This cake is beautifully moist and has the most delicious almond flavour with a hint of orange.

AND, it’s got lots of lovely goodness in it, including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and a few minerals to boot. The cake’s also low GI, so it gives us slow release energy rather than those horrible refined sugar energy spikes.

AND it’s easy to make.  Even for me!  (and if I can bake it, you definitely will be able to 😉 )

One of my study group friends said it’s the best cake I’ve ever made.  (To be fair, I haven’t set the bar very high with my attempts at baking, but it’s wonderful to hear that I’ve actually made something that’s more than edible 🙂 )

M and Lil’ L absolutely loved it.  In fact, Lil’ L said it was one of the best cakes in the world!  For this reason alone, I think this cake deserves its own blog post.  So here it is.

 

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! I hope the sun shines wherever you are!

 

 

Mothering Sunday, a Visit to Lacock and a delicious Veggie Korma!

Hi everyone!  Hope you’re having a great week so far!

For this week’s WIAW party, I’d like to share our eats from last Sunday, which was Mother’s Day here in the UK.  According to the results of a nationwide survey, what most mothers really want on Mothering Sunday is a lie-in and a home-made card.  Well, I can happily report that I got both, so I was one very happy mum indeed! 🙂

Check out what Lil’ L wrote inside the card.  It’s really sweet (and amusing)!  People that know me will laugh at pretty much all the qualities he listed, especially the last one!  The only one I can relate to myself is no 3.  Isn’t it wonderful though that, at the age of 8, our kids still think of us as superstars!  I wonder how long that will last!

Last weekend, M’s parents came to stay, so Mother’s Day was doubly special.  After our lovely lie-ins with cups of tea and coffee, we all opted to have different breakfasts.  Cereals and home-made pecan & maple nut granola for M’s mum and dad, porridge for M, and pancakes for me & Lil’ L.  However, when M saw how nice the the pancakes looked, he decided that he’d like some as well.  Luckily, I’d made a huge batch so we had a couple spare 😉

This Sunday, we had blueberry pancakes (recipe here) made with the new Alpro Almond Milk (delicious!),  topped with organic strawberries, pecan nuts, ground linseed and a drizzle of agave syrup.  Both Waitrose & Tesco are selling organic strawberries half price at the moment and they are super sweet and totally scrummy!

Lil’ L was put out at first when he saw the strawberries on top, but he was willing to give them a try, with the response “I’ll give anything a try if it’s on top of a pancake”.  I must remember this 😉

He ended up eating the whole lot, which is fantastic for this former fruit dodger.  That’s another fruit to cross off the ‘won’t try/don’t like’ list 🙂

After breakfast, we went to visit Lacock, a village in Wiltshire just a few miles from where we live.  This ancient village is a pretty special place, and has the most incredible old houses.

Lacock Village High Street (c) Ian Petticrew

It’s been used as the backdrop for a number of films and TV series, including Cranford and Pride & Prejudice.  Lacock Abbey is also the setting for a number of the interior shots in the Harry Potter films.

Lacock Village (c) Pam Brophy

On Sunday, there were lots of little craft shops open for us to browse, as well as a craft fayre in the village hall.  For lunch, we stopped at the village bakery for a delicious veggie pastie.

Lacock Bakery (c) Jonathan Billinger

We had a lovely afternoon at the village and are planning to return in early summer with M’s parents to visit the Abbey and its grounds.  From the photos I’ve seen on the web, it looks absolutely stunning!

Lacock Abbey (c) Gary Brothwell

For dinner, we had leftovers from Saturday night’s meal, which had been so delicious that we didn’t mind eating it on two consecutive nights.  We had veggie korma, coconut dhal with butternut squash, brown rice, chapattis (made by M!), and mini poppadoms.

The veggie curry was really well received by M’s parents, which was a relief as I often wonder whether M, L and I have different taste buds to people that eat ‘typical’ Western diets.  I think veggie curry is a great dish to serve when you have guests (whether they’re veggie or meat eaters) for these reasons…

  • With the simple addition of chapattis, poppadoms, naan breads, the curry can turn into a delicious feast.
  • Pretty much everyone I know loves curry, and as long as you don’t make it too hot, then it’s fine for the children too.  When Lil’ L was younger, I simply used to roughly blend the veggies so that they were less chunky and blended into the korma sauce.
  • The dishes can be prepared in advance (big advantage in my book as I don’t want to be slaving in the kitchen when we have guests!)  The dishes can even be prepared the day before and simply heated through on the stove.

The veggie korma we made on Saturday included my all-time favourite combination of veggies for curries.  It’s quick and incredibly simple to make.  Here’s the recipe:

For dessert, we had mango hedgehogs 🙂

So that’s what we ate on Mothering Sunday.  We didn’t go out to a restaurant and pay the inflated Mother’s Day prices, but instead we stayed in and ate one of the tastiest Indian meals I’ve ever had 🙂

It’s now time for me to pop over to Jenn’s site and check out all the delicious WIAW entries.  A big thank you to Jenn for hosting this great foodie party and for all the inspiration for new eats.

I’d love some more ideas for dishes to serve for a mix of veggie and non-veggie guests.  I often end up serving veggie lasagna, Mexican burritos/ fajitas/ enchiladas, or veggie curry.  What dishes would you recommend?  I’d love to hear your ideas and please do send links to recipes if you have them.

Happy Wednesday everyone! xx

 

 

Weekend Photo Journal – Beautiful Walks, Bike Rides & the Bath Half!

Hello everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend! 🙂

We had a pretty active weekend, kicking off on Friday night with Lil’ L’s first experience of scuba diving at his friend’s ‘Bubblemaker’ birthday party.  What an incredible treat!  We didn’t get back home till gone 10pm but Lil’ L was still buzzing from the experience and not tired in the slightest!

 On Saturday, the weather was glorious, so we decided to walk along the Kennet & Avon Canal into Bath, hop on the train, and spend the day in Bristol.  The canal was a hive of activity, with lots of people out walking, running, cycling, boating and kayaking.

I love the way that a spell of good weather brings people outside 🙂

We did a lot of walking on Saturday.  We did six miles to and from the train station, and walked for about 2 hours round Bristol.  By the end of our canal walk back home, our feet were feeling a bit tingly and worn out, so we stopped at Bathampton Mill for a drink.  The weather was still so good that we sat outside on the decking next to the beautiful Bathampton Weir.

Back home, we decided that we definitely had earnt a movie and pizza night 😉  I made a portobello mushroom pesto pizza (drizzled with truffle oil).  Totally delish (and healthy!)  I promise I’ll write up the recipe soon!

Sunday was the Bath Half Marathon.  While I wasn’t competing myself, I wanted to go along and cheer on all those brave people that were running, and to soak up the atmosphere.  We decided to give our feet a rest and hopped on the bikes 🙂

We found a good location to chain up our bikes and watch the race, just outside the Holburne Museum.

 We watched the race on the final bend before the finish line. 

I felt really emotional watching the guys running past as I could sense their feelings of agony, relief and triumph as they entered the home strait on Pulteney Street. 

Well done to everyone that took part.  What an incredible achievement!

After the race, Bath was totally buzzing. Such a great atmosphere!  We decided to buy some food and sit in the beautiful Pulteney Gardens. Lots of people were in the gardens, making the most of the good weather 🙂

 

Here’s Lil’ L busy sketching in his new note book.  He’s really into drawing funny little cartoon characters at the moment.  Those filthy, muddy boots to his right are M’s.  He’d already been out on a 2 hour mountain bike ride before we went into Bath, and was covered head to foot in mud! 

Every time I point the camera at Lil’ L, he pulls a face.  You really have to catch him off guard if you want to get a decent picture.  I eventually managed to get one of him laughing  in between the face pulling!

 See what I mean?

By the time we’d finished lunch and headed back to Pulteney Street to find our bikes, the Bath Half was completely finished.  The streets were being cleaned, and the finish line banner was coming down, ready to be packed away for another year.

Time to head back home!

It has been a wonderful weekend in Bath, thanks in part to the beautiful weather.  Long may it continue! 🙂

What was the highlight of your weekend?

 

 

Spring is in the air! The Joys of Blossom… and Living in the Moment!

Hi everyone! I hope you had a great weekend! 🙂

On Saturday we had glorious weather in Bath, so I took the opportunity to get out into the garden and do some tidying up.  It was so warm that we even managed to eat our lunch outside 🙂

It really does feel like Spring has arrived in Bath.  The crocuses and primroses are popping up everywhere in our little garden…

along with the daffodils and cute little narcissus 🙂

 

One of my favourite things about Springtime is blossom.  Trees look so severe in Wintertime without their leaves, but come Springtime, their bare branches are covered in the most delicately coloured, beautiful flowers that are an absolute joy to see.

One of my favourite types of blossom is found on the japonica tree. 

This tree is situated outside Lil’ L’s bedroom, and it’s such a nice sight to be greeted with as  I open his curtains first thing in the morning.

To reach school, we have to walk up a very steep hill.  Even though I consider myself to be pretty fit, I’m totally out of breath as I reach the top!  But what I focus on as I’m climbing (and huffing and puffing!) is the cherry tree that marks the end of the hill.  This tree is absolutely glorious at the moment… 

with the most beautiful blossom 🙂

And check out how blue the sky was on the school run today!

 In last week’s Wednesday Workshop (a little primary school Buddhist class that I teach each Wednesday) we read the story of the Four Princesses and the Kingshuk Tree (a beautiful story!) and I used the example of blossom to teach the children about impermanence and the importance of living in the moment.  Most of us are so busy in our lives, with our heads filled with a million and one thoughts and plans, that we risk losing sight of all the beauty that surrounds us in our natural environment.  When we do live in the moment, everything becomes brighter, clearer, more beautiful.

Time to enjoy the blossom… it’ll be gone before we know it!

Has Spring arrived where you live?  What’s your favourite thing about this season?