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?

 

Almond Cookies (Dairy Free, Egg Free, Vegan)

After one of the coldest Springs on record, the weather is finally starting to warm up.  Like us, the garden is loving it!  The Aquilegias (‘Granny’s Bonnet’) are out in full force…

Aquilegia - June 2013

and the peonies have started to bloom.

Peony May-June 2013

We had zero fruit on the apple and plum trees last year due to the poor weather conditions, but things are looking better this year.  Even the tiny apple tree growing in our rockery is covered in blossom.

Apple Tree & Peony - May-June 2013

Hopefully we’ll have lots of homegrown apples come September 🙂

Apple Blossom - May-June 2013

The weather is still very patchy at the moment though.  One day we have glorious sunshine and it’s warm, while the next day it can be cold and dark, with non stop rain.  I don’t know when (or if) the weather is going to settle down this year, so we’re just going to have to make the most of the sunshine when it appears.

This morning, before heading out on our bikes, Lil’ L and I decided to bake some Cinnamon Fruit Loaf and Almond Cookies.  As soon as the cookies were baked, we headed out into the garden to enjoy them along with a cup of raw hot chocolate.

Lil L, Almond Cookies & Hot Choc in the Garden 1

In fact, it was so sunny this morning that we needed to wear sun glasses!

Lil L, Almond Cookies & Hot Choc in the Garden 2

The almond cookies were really yummy!  Straight from the oven, they were crunchy on the outside with a softer centre.  We used chapatti flour which is so fine that you wouldn’t even guess that these cookies were wholegrain!  To boost the almond flavour, we added a little almond extract which gave them a hint of marzipan.  Next time round, we’re going to toast the almonds first to see if we can boost the almond flavour even more.

Vegan Almond Cookies

Here’s how we made them:

Fuelled up from our ‘elevenses’, we headed out on our second bike ride of the weekend, this time along the beautiful Kennet & Avon Canal…

Riding along the Kennet & Avon Canal Towpath

passing through the lush green countryside and wildflower meadows round Monkton Coombe, followed by a ride through the Bath Two Tunnels (it was so cool in there!)

Two Tunnels

then onto Bath city centre for cappuccinos & smoothies.    It was absolutely glorious!

I hope you had a lovely weekend too and I wish you all the best for the week ahead 🙂

What was the highlight of your weekend?

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?

 

Big Budget Challenge – Weeks III & IV

As it was the half term school holidays last week, which began with a mini break to Sherwood Forest followed by Lil’ L’s 8th birthday, I didn’t get round to posting an update for Laura’s Big Budget Challenge.  Many apologies Laura!  To make up for this, I’ll give a rundown of my ‘money saves’ over the past two weeks vis-a-vis my 5 budget rules

1. Avoid waste. I’m pleased to say that I’ve managed to avoid throwing away any food over the past two weeks 🙂  There was a close call with a bag of spinach that was starting to look sorry for itself, but Laura’s post on Monday inspired me to make a spinach, butternut squash and chickpea curry.  I even roasted the squash seeds (for the first time ever) and we had them with the hemp burger and roasted squash dinner on Monday.  No seeds will ever get thrown away again… they’re so nice lightly roasted! 🙂

2. Shop around for cheapest deals. I’m planning to do another big online grocery shop tomorrow and I’ll definitely be using www.mysupermarket.co.uk again.  It saved me quite a few pounds on my last big grocery shop and I’m intrigued to see what I can save this time round 🙂

3. Make use of home grown foods.  We’ve been eating lots of home-grown apples (still not sick of them 😉 ).  We’ve also had some very generous donations of home-grown produce from friends and family, including these amazing courgettes/zucchinis.

As well as using the zucchini in lots of savoury dishes (roasted veg & pasta; lasagna; fajitas), I made some wicked date and zucchini brownies last week, which I pictured in yesterday’s post.  (I’ll be writing up the recipe and posting it very soon).

All the donated produce has been used up now, so I’ve turned my attention to some rather unusual home-grown produce… dandelion leaves and nettles.  I didn’t intentionally grow these, but as they’re growing so beautifully in my garden, it’ll be fun to see whether I can turn them into something tasty 😉

4. Go foraging! Whilst cycling round Sherwood Forest last week, I couldn’t resist a quick pause to collect sweet chestnuts.

The cases are so prickly!  I used my feet to squeeze the nuts out of the shells, while M adopted a more hands-on approach.

I didn’t have a bag with me, so I crammed as many as I could into the back pocket of my cycling jacket.

You won’t believe how many I actually managed to cram into that pocket!

I absolutely adore roasted chestnuts!  They really remind me of childhood Christmas Eves when my Dad would roast chestnuts, sprinkle them with salt and tip them on a newspaper.  We’d then sit on the living room floor and tuck in!

Today, I decided to use some of the nuts to make a sweet chestnut casserole with herby dumplings.

The dumplings were flavoured with fresh rosemary from the garden.  This is one of the few edible plants that the slugs and snails actually leave alone!  It’s a really easy herb to grow and seems to look after itself.  Our plant has been here the whole time we’ve lived in Bath (11 years now) and it hasn’t need any attention at all. (That’s SO my sort of plant 😉 )

5. Make use of vouchers and deals. We used our Tesco vouchers again on Lil’ L’s birthday, saving us £21 on the entry fee into a sea aquarium.  I’m glad we didn’t pay real money for this trip as the aquarium was awful (in my opinion).  The image of the snake-headed turtle pounding up and down its tiny tank is still haunting me 🙁

So that’s my big budget challenge update for weeks III and IV!  Have you had any great money saves in the last month?  If so, I’d love to hear them!