Christmas 2013 Holiday Highlights

As of today, the Christmas holidays are officially over in our house. For me and the boys, the holidays have been total bliss. All the usual busyness of daily life stopped in our house and we enjoyed two weeks of ‘down-time’ together

Like many parts of the world, we’ve been experiencing freaky weather patterns these past few weeks, including frequent spells of torrential rain and gail force winds. Our local meadows (pictured in my top banner) transformed into a big lake.

Bathampton Meadows Flooded Christmas 2013

On Christmas Eve, we awoke to find our garden completely submerged under water. The water levels were the highest that we’ve ever seen them before, reaching the top of Lil’ L’s slide. While the water did eventually drain away, as soon as we had more heavy rain, the garden flooded again.  Fortunately, our house is on higher land, so there’s no risk of it flooding.

Flooded Garden Christmas 2013

For Christmas Day, we headed over to my mum’s in Dorset. We were having such a nice time that we ended up staying five days!

Christmas 2013

We played games, watched films, and went on some lovely walks with the dogs. Father Christmas brought Lil’ L a laser gun set, and he and M had lots of fun and laughs running round the house and forest shooting each other (boys eh?)

Lil L in Verwood Forest Christmas 2013

Using the weather tracking tool on our mobiles, we were able to time our walks to avoid the worst of the rain. Most days were dark and cloudy, but Boxing Day was exceptionally bright and dry, so we headed to Bournemouth.

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_1

It was utterly glorious!

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_4

We took a long walk along the promenade, played with the dogs on the beach, had coffees on the pier, and played the tuppence slot machines in the arcade.

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_2

I find it so invigorating by the sea this time of year. It’s great for clearing the old cobwebs away!

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_3

Love these colourful beach huts on Bournemouth promenade!

Beach Huts at Bournemouth

Food-wise, by far the best meal of the holidays was the Christmas dinner. My mum made the nut and lentil roast on Christmas Eve so, on Christmas day, we simply needed to prepare the veggies and gravy. Lil’ L said it was the best Christmas dinner he’s ever had! He even tried the Brussel sprouts and, though not keen on them on their own, he loved them mashed in ‘Bubble and Squeak’ (which we served on Boxing Day with the Chestnut and Mushroom Jalousie).

And thank you SO much for all your lovely comments about the Cranberry Glazed Red Lentil and Cashew Nut Loaf recipe. I was over the moon to hear how much you liked it!

I admit I’ve eaten far too much these past couple of weeks but I’m not worried about it. This week I’ll get back into my usual eating and exercising habits and, by the end of the month, I’m sure I’ll back back to my usual weight.  For me, this month is all about quick prep, low cost, tasty, healthy meals. I’ve got some really easy recipes to share with you, plus some awesome giveaways.

Time for me to officially bid farewell to 2013 and embrace the New Year.

Here’s wishing you all a very happy 2014 xx

Our Wildlife Garden & Summer Fruits Energy Shake (‘Breakfast in a Glass’)

What a glorious summer we’ve had this year! After a spell of wet, overcast summers, it was such a refreshing change to have blue skies and sunshine for pretty much the whole of July and August.  I absolutely loved it and took every opportunity I could to be outside, making the most of it

The plants and insects clearly loved the weather too!  This year, I decided to let the failed ‘veggie’ patch grow wild and turn it into a little haven for wildlife.

'Veggie' Patch Aug 2013 1 500

The whole summer it’s been a hive of activity, filled with all manner of bee, butterfly and beetle. We’ve also had baby toads and slow worms living in there too!

'Veggie' Patch Aug 2013 3 500

Does anyone know the name of the yellow plant below? I think it’s beautiful and it doesn’t get munched at all. As soon as I know its name, I’ll add it to my list of slug and snail resistant plants 🙂

'Veggie' Patch Aug 2013 4 500

We’ve also had success growing raspberries in the patch 🙂 A generous friend gave me six plants earlier this summer, and by late August they were already producing fruit. This raspberry is golden yellow in colour, which seems to make it less appealing to the birds. While the leaves of the plant have been munched, the fruits haven’t been touched at all!

Raspberries September 2013

Normally at this time of year, I would be out on my bike foraging for blackberries, but this year there was no need. By leaving the garden wild, we ended up with our own bumper crop!

Blackberries 4

In the mornings, I’ve been enjoying energy shakes for breakfast, made with a cup of freshly picked blackberries. By adding in some oats, ground almonds and chia seeds, the shake becomes a very satisfying ‘breakfast in a glass’. The additions make the shake so filling that I don’t get hungry all morning!

Blackberries 3

This shake also makes a fantastic post-exercise recovery drink and after-school ‘snack’ to revive energy levels.  I find they’re especially useful as a filling, energy booster on weekday nights when Lil’ L has after-school activities and dinner is going to be served late.

Blackberry Shake 1 500 copy

These smoothies have been a great way to encourage Lil’ L to eat berries. He still won’t go anywhere near whole berries (it’s a ‘texture thing’) but he’ll happily gulp them down in a shake. When he was little, I used to blend the berries and milk first, then strain it to make it completely smooth before blending in the remaining ingredients. These days, he’s happy to drink the smoothies straight up, pips and all!

Here’s how we make them:

And to make to even more scrumptious, I like to top off my shake with some ground cacao nibs 🙂

Berry Shake with Cacao Nibs 1 500 copy

The Good Stuff ♥
Blackberries – Fantastic immunity boosters, packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C. Also a great source of dietary fibre, vitamin K, and manganese
Fortified soya milk & yoghurt – Good source of protein, calcium, vitamins B12 and D, yoghurt cultures
Oats – Provides slow-release energy

Almonds – Provides protein. Rich source of antioxidant Vitamin E, riboflavin, manganese and magnesium

Chia seeds – Good source of protein and dietary fibre. Rich in calcium, manganese, phosphorous and omega 3 fat
Cacao Nibs – Packed with nutrients, including lots of antioxidants. Check out my raw chocolate post to find out more.

Products used in this recipe
Alpro soya milk and plain soya yoghurt (available in all major UK supermarkets)
Mornflake Superfast Oats (available from Tesco and Asda)
Chia seeds (available from health food stores and online. I purchased mine from Earthfare)
Duronic 1200 1.8 litre Jug Blender, available from Amazon

Cacao nibs – available from health food stores and online. I use the Elements for Life Cacao Nib Grinder

 

Have you had any success growing fruits or veggies this year? Do you ever go foraging?

 

Weekend Highlights – Spray Painting, Bike Riding & Roasted Vegetable Risotto (with Recipe!)

Hi everyone! I hope you had a great weekend 🙂

We managed to fit in lots of fun activities this weekend, starting off with a trip to the library on Saturday morning where Lil’ L returned his book and came out with another seven! You can guess who ended up carrying those round Bath. Luckily he had lots of books to keep him occupied while we went for coffees in Neros 😉

I’m still getting a real kick out of how much Lil’ L is enjoying reading.  In addition to the library books, he’s also currently reading a chapter of Lemony Snicket to us every night and, on his own, he’s reading Philip Pullman’s ‘The Subtle Knife’ (both books that he picked up from the charity shop for a couple of pounds each).

In the afternoon, after a quick visit to a local village fete, Lil’ L and his friend T did some stencilling and spray art with M in our garage.

T did a space-inspired picture, while Lil’ L sprayed an underwater scene with a scary looking fish!

On Sunday, it actually stopped raining for a few hours and the sun came out. We decided to grab the opportunity to go out for a bike ride along the Kennet & Avon Canal.

To make it more interesting for Lil’ L, we said we’d cycle to the Angel Fish Cafe at Limpley Stoke for lunch.  That sure got him moving!

Both the boys fancied baked beans on toast but we were surprised to find that the Cafe only served white bread. No wholemeal, no granary, no seeded bread.  That’s no good! Bike riders need big chunky doorsteps of wholemeal granary bread to refuel them, not thin anaemic white slices 😉

Lil’ L asked if he could have an ice cream for dessert. I told him he could have one at the Canal Boat Cafe in Bathampton (back where we started our journey). This was a sneaky move on my part to make sure he peddled fast rather than dawdled all the way back. It sure worked 😉

We’ve had an unbelievable amount of rain lately but, on the plus side, the countryside is looking beautifully lush and green!

The muddy bike bottom really isn’t a good look is it? I’m so glad I’ve finally had mudguards fitted to my bike.

The face was pretty muddy too (and chocolatey!)

And look at those legs!

Back home, Lil’ L headed straight to the shower while I made the most of our sunshine and did a little gardening. I was amazed to find that we’ve actually managed to grow some strawberries that haven’t been eaten by a slug … or snail … or blackbird!

And look what else I came across… a beautiful shimmering blue damselfly taking refuge on Buddha 🙂

He stayed there for ages!

After a great day out, I cooked us a large pan of roasted squash and red pepper risotto. It was very yummy indeed. Unfortunately, Lil’ L isn’t a huge fan of risotto (he isn’t keen on the texture of Arborio rice) but I pre-empted any negative comments by serving it with some toasted wholegrain tortilla segments. He then proceeded to tuck in with enthusiasm, piling the crispy tortilla high with the risotto, and ate every last grain!

I often find that the addition of a ‘bready’ side dish, like a flat bread, tortilla, or piece of garlic bread can transform a meal for Lil L. I wonder if this is the same for all children?

At the weekend, I made the risotto with an old packet of Arborio rice that needed using up. Next time I make the risotto, I’m going to try the Riso Gallo 3 Grains Risotto Rice which consists of Italian Rice, Spelt and Pearl Barley. As this rice contains wholegrains, it will have a lower GI than regular white risotto rice, as well as other nutrients such as Iron and B Vitamins.

With the butternut squash and red pepper pieces, our risotto did look quite pretty. I also added some peas to add more colour and lovely nutrients 🙂

Here’s how I made it:

Have a great week everyone! 🙂 xx

This time last year… Glastonbury!

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?

 

Project Garden Tidy Up & Slug Resistant Flower Review

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

For us, the focus of this weekend has been ‘ project garden tidy up’.  I’d been waiting for everything to die back before I tackled the big garden tidy up, but due to the crazy warm weather we’ve had during the past few months, everything’s just kept on growing.  I’m sure the plants are as confused as the ducks 😉

While some winter plants have just started to bloom, such as the beautiful snow drops…

two sets of purple flowers have kept on growing out of the cracks in the walls and blooming non stop since LAST SPRING!

Can anyone help me with the names of these flowers?  I’ve no idea what they’re called!

Saturday was one of those freezing cold, but gloriously sunny days with a cloudless blue sky.  It was truly beautiful… and totally invigorating! 🙂

Whilst busy chopping back the shrubs, I reflected on how the garden has evolved over the past 12 years since we moved here.  For the first few years, I was constantly battling with the huge amount of slugs and snails that appeared every night in the garden.  Each new plant that was introduced to the garden would last a matter of days before it was totally munched.  Nightly patrols of the garden ensued, with slugs and snails collected up and re-homed.

In the end, I worked out that it would be far better to simply grow plants that that slugs and snails aren’t partial to rather than enduring the nightly hassle of ‘slug patrol’.  It’s been a case of ‘trial and error’ over the years, but I’m happy to say that the garden is now filled with flowers and shrubs that can be left to their own devices, while there’s plenty of vegetation in the undergrowth to keep our slimy friends happy 🙂

Here are some examples of plants that seem to be slug and snail proof (in our garden anyhow):

1. Roses. I adore roses, especially the heavy scented ones.  Have you ever experienced the scent of roses carried on a gentle warm breeze.  It’s heaven!

2. Fuschias. We’ve got 4 hardy fuschias in the garden, which have lived there longer than we have!  Apart from a severe prune in the winter, we just leave them to their own devices and they bloom in abundance, year after year.

3. Equinops.  Incredibly, the slugs and snails manage to eat the super spiky leaves of this plant, but leave the flowers alone.  The bees absolutely love them!

4. Sweet William.  My mum gave me one plant originally but each year it self seeds, I’ve now got about eight!

5. Lavender.  I adore the smell of lavender and the bees love it too!  I can’t wait to try some baking some lavender cupcakes and cookies this summer!

6. Hardy Geraniums.  I’ve got baby pink, magenta and purple hardy geraniums in the garden.  They are so resilient and the slimy ones seem to stay right away from them.

 7. Astrantia.  A delicate white flower on tall stems that the bees adore!

 8. Monbretia. This plant is so resilient.  I try to dig it out every year but it keeps coming back.  On the plus side, it has beautiful orange flowers that the damselflies love sitting on throughout the summer!

9. Sedum.  These buds turn a deep pinky-red when they bloom.  The bees adore them!

10. Salvia.  I believe salvia comes in all different colours and sizes.  Our’s has a very delicate head of purple flowers on a tall green stem.

11. Aquilegia (aka ‘Granny’s Bonnet’). I absolutely love these flowers! They require no care at all and seem to cope with any conditions. In our garden, they’ve self seeded & we now have a host of colours ranging from white, pale pink and powder blue through to dark purple.

Aquilegia - June 2013

Other plants that are slug resistant in our garden that I’ve yet to photograph include Snapdragons, Penstemon, Heuchera, Cyclamen and Bluebells.

I’m happy to report that I now have a garden where all the plants and critters can live happily together… including me 😉

Next job is to review the 2011 veggie growing experiment and plan what we’re going to attempt to grow this year.  Me thinks this review won’t be so positive as the flower review.  Hmmm… we’ll see…

Have a great week everybody!  Hope the sun’s shining wherever you are 🙂  xx

Hard work (and play) in the orchard followed by scrambled tofu on toast

Last Friday, armed with a pair of hand shears and secateurs, Lil’ L and I started to clear a large area of brambles and nettles in the orchard that had actually grown taller than us!  By lunchtime, we were starving and so we decided to make one of our all-time favourite lunches… scrambled tofu on toast.  This lunch is quick to make, super tasty, healthy and very filling (so great after a big workout!)

As the weather was so nice, we sat outside for our lunch.  As you can see, Lil’ L was ravenous…

He’d finished his lunch before I even started mine!

Here’s the recipe for scrambled tofu on toast.

Lunch was followed by more hard toil in the orchard.  This carried on for the whole weekend, but we were really pleased with the results.  We’ve revealed a large area at the bottom of the orchard that we’ve never ventured into before because it was so overgrown.

This is the bottom left-hand area of the orchard that we cleared.

We’re now planning to plant bluebells and other woodland plants, and install a rope swing on the oak tree.

This is the bottom right-hand corner of the orchard that we cleared.

I’ve actually grown biceps this weekend with all the chopping I’ve been doing with blunt shears.  It was hard work, but loads of funs and very rewarding. 🙂

While we were chopping weeds, M was progressing with Plan B for the veggie patch.  Plan A failed miserably as the butternut squashes started to get munched as soon as we removed the cloches.  (Plan A involved placing coffee grounds and clippings of rosemary around the plants.  I’d read on the web that slugs and snails don’t like coffee or rosemary… but ours’ weren’t put off in the slightest and just slimed right over them 🙁  )  One night, in the pouring rain, I dug the squashes up, took them back up to the house, and planted them back in pots.  I don’t think they would have survived another night with the slugs!

Onto Plan B… this involved 1) tidying up the area around the veggie patch and removing stinging nettles, logs and anything else slugs and snails enjoy living in, 2) covering the area around the raised beds in shingle with brambles on top (to stop the cats pooing in it), 3) sticking copper tape along the top of the raised beds, and 4) placing stakes and wire with pieces of shiny metal tape around the entire veggie patch to deter cats and birds.

The first night, we left one tiny area of shingle without a bramble on it… and the cat pooed on it!!! Unbelievable!!!  The next day, step 4 (the wiring) was put in place and this seems to have deterred the cat.  At some point this week, I will try planting the squashes again and see what happens.

Meanwhile, the plum tree is doing extremely well.  In fact, it had far too many plums on it this year and a few boughs snapped. 🙁  The slugs are enjoying eating them though, so maybe the ‘plum fest’ will encourage them to forget about the veggie patch. 😉

We’ve also got hundreds of apples growing in the large apple tree.  They should be ripe in a few weeks and I can’t wait to start making apple crumbles, eve’s puddings, apple cake and apple pies.  Yum!

Lil’ L’s shot of the apple tree

The courgette (zucchini) plant is doing much better now… largely thanks to a resident ladybird, plus I’m bringing it into the back porch every night to stop it getting munched by woodlice.

In return for our tender loving care, the plant has rewarded us with some beautiful flowers…. and it looks like 2 baby courgettes have started to grow.  Yay!!  Let’s hope they manage to make it to full size.  That’ll be a first for us!

How’s everyone else getting on with their veggie growing?  Have you reaped any bounty yet?