Monday, 31 December 2018

Ringing the old year out...

Rachel Unthanks & the Winterset- Tar Barrel in Dale - perfect for this evening

It's a strange time of year, that feeling of pondering, looking back, stock taking and reviewing coming right up against a sense of anticipation, of suspense, of something just hanging in the air, lurking around the corner, a whisper of potential, of possibilities, of opportunities to come... It lingers here even now when we hope that nothing changes too radically as that probably won't be a "good thing". So here I am as we bid farewell to the Old, stepping into the New Year ready to see what I can do with it's potential, or at least to do my level best to do so and to carry on taking each day as it comes for as long as they come.

May good fortune be with you...

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Bahhhh! Bothersome Book Bungle

Just started to read the much anticipated Sleeper's Castle by Barbara Erskine only to get two pages in and realise that this is one I must have borrowed from the library when it first came out, back before I became really poorly, before the pain, before the diagnosis, before bleeping chemo, before I stopped reading, before I started reading again, just bloody before! Slap!, a reminder that I could have done without but blow that, I'll just have to resume keeping a book list won't I? I used to do it and I'd pondered about adding a page here so I'll just do it. And it's not the end of the world, her books are wonderful and deserve a re-read so I'll just save it until I've worked my way through the un-reads or want the familiar. But bahhh!

Just chilling

Having a quiet couple of days here - may have been a little more tired and a little more achey than is entirely comfortable but that's okay. I've spent a few days doing what I enjoy doing - baking, cooking, eating, pottering and chatting and a couple of lazy food days won't hurt. We've also finished a couple of jigsaws over the last few days - which involves sitting upright at the table for slightly longer than is advisable and I "helped" J prune the garden apple tree. So all in all a good week and if it means a few days of late starts and lots of time spent in the easy chair then so be it.

Zoom in for a giggle - lots of visual funnies in this one.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Quick and Easy Vanilla Biscuits

These are super tasty and cook really quickly - the dough can be made in advance and stored in the fridge until you need it and the cooked biscuits keep well for at least a few days. I'm sure they'd probably keep longer but they don't get a chance in this house! I can't remember where I found the original recipe for this but it's been a favourite for some years so I hope the original author will forgive any liberties taken.

Oven 200c /180c fan or Gas Mark 6

You'll need at least 2 flat baking trays and several sheets of baking paper (parchment paper).

Makes c. 40 c.2.5cm round biscuits (your quantities will obviously vary depending on shapes made)

6oz/175g margarine or softened butter
7oz/200g sugar (I use a mix demerara and granulated)
12oz/350g plain flour
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp icing sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon or mixed spice for dusting on top of warm biscuits.

Mix all the ingredients (except the spiced icing sugar) in a food processor. Bring together into a soft dough and divide in 2 lumps.

Roll first lump between 2 pieces of parchment paper (cut to fit  just a bit bigger than your baking trays). Roll to c. 2mm thick and then cut into shapes (I find simple circles work best and use a 2.5 cm diameter cutter). Obviously you can make them thicker and or bigger but will need to keep an eye on them when they cook - play around and you'll soon figure out what timings work best for your shapes and oven.

NOTE: At this point the original recipe said to peel back the excess dough and leave the cut out biscuits on the bottom parchment sheet and then place whole sheet on the baking tray. If this doesn't work for you I've found that putting an additional sheet of parchment paper on the tray and using a palette knife to transfer the cut biscuits on to it works fine if you aren't too bothered about each biscuit being completely uniform in shape!

Roll the next batch between sheets of parchment and repeat. Bring any excess dough together and re-roll between parchment until you have used all the dough up.

Bake for c. 10-12 minutes until gently golden - keep a close eye on them as they turn quickly.

Transfer cooked biscuits to a cooling rack and dust with the icing sugar whilst still warm.

Once cooled store in an airtight container if you can keep them long enough.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

December drawing to an end

Today has been Boxing Day, a great day for loafing and leftovers. It's also the kind of day that lends itself to looking back, to reviewing things so here's what I have come up with for today.

Royal icing, marzipan and cherries for the top
Things made to share
We were too full yesterday to cut this Christmas Cake so it received it's first cutting today. It had stayed nice and moist despite not having any alcohol in it and the icing hadn't gone rock hard so a definite win.
Dinner yesterday was pine nut-roast and roast veggies and was followed by a leftovers pie and herb and onion nibbles for today, Boxing Day. Tomorrow will be lazy lentil stew - a pot of base and a pot of potato from the freezer with some veggie and store cupboard extras - quick and easy.

Things read
Busy doing other things over the last couple of weeks so still reading Katherine Arden's wonderful book. I'm going to ask for the other two parts of the trilogy for my birthday I think. I've also dipped in and out of a few e-magazines borrowed from my local library's electronic lending service. If you haven't already done so and are looking to save some money in the coming year take a look at your local service and see what they offer.
No spoilers as the picture isn't the same as the box

What were the other things? Well this Christmas Wasgij kept three of us busy for a few days and there are a few more puzzles lined up to take its place.

Things watched
The Paddington Films - I hadn't seen either of these so made the most of my new Amazon Prime subscription and watched them both in the last week. I think I liked the second one even better than the first.
Watership Down - I also enjoyed the new BBC adaptation of Richard Adams' story shown over two nights despite it receiving mixed reviews.
I've also been making the most of the Prime subscription by trying out different series that have been around for some time but I've never seen. So this last week or so I've started the first series' of The man in high castle (interesting concept but very confusing); The 100 (so far so good but a bit Lord of the flies...) and Battlestar Galactica ( ok but you do have to pay attention as it darts around a lot). I've also tried out The Marvellous Mrs Maisel - which is more just about ok than marvellous in my opinion but will fill some time when J goes back to work next month.

Things listened to
Other than favourite Christmas music and Winter songs I sat down this afternoon and actually listened to a radio drama for the first time in ages. 'Twas Neil Gaiman's Norse mythology on Radio 4. Check out on Iplayer/ Sounds here.

So there you have it - hope you have had a chilled out week too.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Meet

Whatever you are doing today, wherever you are and whoever you are with may your day be a good one. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays....

Monday, 24 December 2018

Celebrating our way.

Family traditions evolve over time and often make no sense to anyone else at all but nonetheless become a valued and ingrained part of your celebration. For us it all starts when the BBC broadcast the Christmas Special edition of the 1970s comedy "The Good Life", entitled "Silly but it's fun" it sort of sums things up for us.  After all, we have just celebrated Christmas Eve with our traditional breakfast of Hot Cross Buns - bought as an "oh how could they" giggle many moons ago when we were setting off early to visit Js mum, hot cross buns have now become an out-of-season must have for us. The tree, if we have one, has to be real, the topper a star. If we are lucky enough to get too many cards for the living room pelmets then two red ribbons get attached to the door and the remaining cards get attached to them. Any greenery brought in has to be home grown or foraged. And Boxing Day, well Boxing Day is, weather permitting, Pruning Day - whether we just do the garden tree or we manage to get up to the allotment - we always try to prune the apple trees on Boxing Day and kick off the new growing year in style.
So, however you celebrate the turning of the wheel and the coming of the longer, brighter days that are just around the corner, may the next few days be everything you wish for and bring you good health and much joy.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Winter photographic scavenger hunt #2

Today's post brings you three more offerings for the Bracelet of Days' Winter Scavenger Hunt as described in my post at the beginning of the month. The first one is a particular favourite of mine. More to come in the New Year.

1. At the end of the day
Picked J up from the allotment at 3pm on Saturday 22nd December - definitely looked like the day drawing to a close silhouetting the hedgerow trees

2. Pool of light
Gentle candle light casting pretty patterns of light on the sideboard

17. Orange
Joyful gerbera given as a gift

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Green Dragon Pie - comfort food for damp chilly days

Green Dragon Pie fresh from the oven

This one is Vegan by accident as the pesto I happened to have in the cupboard is a dairy free one from Sacla.

Named in tribute to the yummy Red Dragon Pie from Sarah Brown that uses aduki beans. As an aside - if you ever come across one of her vegetarian cookbooks in a charity shop - snap it up - all her recipes are really tasty and great to play with!

This is what I used to make a main meal for 3 hungry people in a 2 pint casserole dish. Oven to Gas Mark 6. 

In a large (c. 20cm) saucepan

Lightly fry to bring out flavours

  • half a dozen chopped mushrooms
  • 2 medium carrots diced

Stir in

  • Approx 200g cooked green lentils
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder (if using fresh onion replace this with 1 small one chopped and fried lightly with mushrooms)
  • 1 tablespoon (vegan) pesto
  • 1 tablespoon mixed herbs
  • black pepper
  • dried ground garlic (or 1 large clove crushed)
  • approx 150ml passata 
Cover, bring to bubbling and then turn heat down and allow to simmer until carrots are just tender.

In another pan cook peeled floury potatoes until tender - you will need at least 200g for a nice deep covering but when I know they are for mash I cut them small and fill the pan to save time and energy (another 20cm pan).  
When the potatoes are cooked (yield to a fork stabbed into one of the larger pieces!), drain and mash adding a little soya milk or margarine for creaminess. 

Put sufficient lentil mix in your casserole dish to cover  2/3 of the depth and then spoon on the mashed potato  - proportions can easily vary according to your tastes but I find 1/3 potato to 2/3 base is right for us!

Bake for approx 30 minutes until the potato is golden brown on the peaks.

No food waste here!

Leftover lentils cooling for the freezer
Any leftover lentil mixture keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days and can also be frozen very successfully. It makes a great pasty filling, baked potato topping, pasta sauce or basis of a stew or soup.
Any leftover potato can be either mashed and frozen for another day and is great to have on hand for quick meals, soup thickener, rissoles or they can be left whole to use them in a potato omelette or roasted/shallow fried.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Happy Solstice all

Good morning all. The Solstice has arrived and the wheel turns again. 
Have a wonderful day all.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Kindness of strangers

Wednesday was Hospice day, my day for trying out new crafts, checking in with the staff and volunteers, chatting to other visitors and getting a complementary therapy treatment  - in my case a wonderfully relaxing reflexology session. All this thanks to the generous donations of so many companies and individuals across the county and supported in a small way by our marvellous NHS. This week the hospice is being filmed for a slot on Midlands Today local news - going out on Friday evening at 18.30 if you are in the area and want to know more about what goes on at a hospice like ours.

Yesterday's craft session was a bit different as we'd had some flowers donated to the team - some from florists I think but others were from funeral offerings - now they don't make a point of saying so for obvious reasons but I happened to be around one week when a rather recognisable vehicle pulled up and our Diversionary Therapist* said "ooh that's for me" - as you can imagine a mix of startled looks and gallows humour ensued!! It turns out that people sometimes donate the flowers after a funeral to stop them going to waste and rather than leave them in obvious arrangements and cause any distress for the users , our support team unpick them, salvage anything usable and then whoever happens to be using the hospice that week gets to make fresh arrangements and take them home to brighten their lives. It's such a simple thing to do but gives so much joy - a chance to chat about favourite flowers, to giggle at our hit and miss attempts to make symmetrical arrangements, to gaze in awe when one of our number reveals a hidden talent and turns out something show-bench worthy and to give something beautiful a second life.

So I came home with a posy of crimson skimmia, fern and tiny red-and-gold-coloured roses which have been added to the jug of greenery from my garden and another of white sweet-scented freesia, golden sunflower and orange gerberas that are currently giving a real pop of colour to the kitchen-table garden.

So my thanks as ever to the wonderful Shakespeare Hospice team and to the complete strangers who thought about giving us joy at a truly difficult and unbearably sad time in their lives.

*Diversionary Therapy - is the name given to the activities the team demonstrate, bring in and give us the opportunity to try. It can be anything from a craft, a jigsaw, a quiz, a performance by local musicians or school children. More often than not the materials used are donated by well-wishers or bought with the donations the Hospice relies on to continue. The idea is to help us find things to relax with, take our minds off treatment and just enjoy being in the moment when things get hard. Trust me it works!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Armageddon is not coming...

Oh my, despite all I've said and tried to do over the last few months, how ridiculously close I came to prepping the larder as if Christmas was Armageddon and we'd all starve. Today I had to cancel an online supermarket shopping order as I've had to delete my online shopping card (a long story but basically one of my favourite company's websites had a hacking incident), and no matter what I won't use my main account online. I stopped, took a deep breath and realised that most of the order wasn't actually necessary anyway. We have plenty of food in the house for both creative kitchen days, quick "bung it the oven" days and even really lazy "let's have a sandwich" days plus more than enough sweet treats and savoury munchies too and, after all, the shops are actually only closed for 1 day! Fool... Idiot....Sucker...! I'd not only fallen into the trap of "what-ifs", "can't-run-outs" and "oh-that-looks-nices", I'd run at it headlong and dived gleefully in. I'd scoffed at that Observer article I mentioned in this morning's blog-post and thought, how can anyone buy and waste that much food, how ridiculous, it must be wrong - and then very nearly ended up going down that same path without a backward glance.
So folks I'm going to be thankful for a hacker (but just this once) and promise to try and remember that just because I can, it doesn't mean I should....

'Tis the season...

Cake, cookies, roasts, nuts and nibbles. Time to create, time to slob, people to feed, new tastes to try. Whatever you celebrate at this time of year I'm sure food plays a big part of it. Already this year we've had the first of the vanilla biscuits - simple to make and great to share - dusted with cinnamon sugar they just scream "warm and happy."

Vanilla biscuits dusted with cinnamon sugar - mmmm
At the same time the first cheese and onion biscuits have been baked, packed up and delivered to Js colleagues. Of course you have to make sure your bakes are edible so a few were tested by the chief taster before I boxed up the rest.  He approved them - as did Mum who is here visiting so below is a recipe to share, bake, tinker with and enjoy.

Cheese and Onion bites 

Gas Mark 6/ Lightly greased and floured oven tray. Makes about 18.

Cheese and Onion bites ready for the oven

I used...
6oz plain flour
3oz margarine
approx 1/2 tablespoon dried onion powder
approx 2oz strong cheddar grated
black pepper
soya milk to mix (obviously water or other milk would do)

Rub fat into flour as for shortcrust pastry. Stir in onion, cheese and pepper. Bring together with enough milk to create a firm dough. Refrigerate for an hour or so and then roll to about the same thickness as a commercial digestive biscuit. Cut out using 2inch round cutter and bake for approx. 20 minutes until lightly golden.Leave to cool on a rack and then store in airtight container - not sure on the shelf life as the spares didn't last 5 minutes!

Please play with the ingredients to find flavours that suit you - I've made variations of these with other types of cheese  or even without cheese at all, and with onion, black pepper and herbs for a great vegan savoury munch. This is also a great way to use up any odds and ends of cheese that may be past their best which given The Observer article that raised lots of people's blood pressure on Sunday should be a good and useful thing to have at your disposal.

May your kitchen be warm and your house be bathed in the scent of baking for the rest of the month!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Bringing in the green...

The tree is up and decorated but the greenery doesn't usually stop there. A few years ago J made a willow wreath for the front door which we decorate and hang each year. using whatever the hedgerows, allotment or garden can offer up. Whatever we cut we always make sure there is plenty left for the wildlife and it's all composted or re-used afterwards. This year I've redressed the hoop with greenery and berries from the garden - J cut these on Sunday before the rain set in and I spent an hour or so yesterday evening weaving in berried Ivy stalks, holly twigs, rosemary sprigs, fern fronds and privet berries then finished off with some twining ivy and a couple of pieces of reused red ribbon. I've also added one of the little stars he made to the centre of the wreath so now any visitors will be greeted with a sweet scented celebration of our garden as we count down to the Solstice and the New Year beyond.

Not one to let all the cut greenery go to waste I've also started a jug for the living room - it still needs a few bits of paler greenery to lift it so I'll have to see what I can find but it's not a bad start.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Soundrack to the season

Music always features heavily in the house at this time of year - the now traditional rash of Christmas themed pop songs always get several airings but so do some gentler more ethereal tunes that seem to better reflect the thoughtfulness provoked by the season. This is a small selection of the ones that I keep coming back to. I hope you enjoy them too.

Solstice Carol - A glorious invocation of the season from the Canadian band Wyrd Sisters.

Sarah McLachlan's haunting Wintersong is also a favourite at this time of year. Until I started putting this post together I hadn't realised just how many Canadian vocalists featured amongst my favourites. The next one also hails from across the pond.

In the bleak midwinter - So many beautiful versions of this haunting song but this one by Loreena McKennitt is one of my favourites.

White Christmas - There have been many but for me, nothing beats the one and only Bing Crosby

Enya's voice is always beautiful and no matter what she records it is  evocative and ethereal. This version of the sublime Silent Night is no exception.

Happy Listening!

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Deck the halls...

Well the living room and landing anyway..with maybe a few extra lights for the kitchen and porch.
We picked a beautiful tree up from our local farm on Friday and let it settle overnight. It's a locally grown Nordmann Spruce that will eventually be chipped and composted to make a mulch for our blueberries but that's jumping ahead a bit, for now we are enjoying having it in the house for the next few weeks. A warm pop of tradition to brighten the gloom of Midwinter.

J popped the lights on for me, we found a second set neither of us could remember buying and they look really good on the tree, so we now have one set an icy-blue-white and the other a warm-orange-white so to me, it looks a bit like having both the moon's and the sun's light on one tree. It's been a seriously soggy dismal grey day so spending a few hours decorating the tree really brightened the world. I've topped it off with a wicker star J made a few years ago from our allotment willow and has been wrapped with strings of larch cones and adorned with a mix of ornaments - red, gold and silver glass ones bought the year I moved to the Midlands and had my own tree for the first time; a clay gingerbread man made by one of my nephews when he was small; a wooden cracker made by J the first year he had a lathe; papier-mȃché baubles that used to be on our family tree and a few others picked up, given and made over the last decade. A hodge-podge of smiles and memories that will brighten the room for a few weeks before being packed away carefully wrapped in tissue paper until next December.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we'll dress the wreaths and bring some more green inside. I've also promised to make the first batch of vanilla & cinnamon biscuits as gifts for friends and neighbours. I do like this time of year.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Garden visitors

Sat eating my lunch in the kitchen yesterday listening to Christmas tunes and watching the birds that are starting to come down to the bird feeders now it's turning colder. Today I've been joined by a camera shy robin, the usual fat pigeon and a beautiful male blackbird and a peckish blue tit that hung around on the peanuts for quite a while. After they had had their fill I popped out and topped up the water and tray seed - blimey it was chilly out there!

Blue tit on the peanuts (cropped)

Male Blackbird enjoying the last apples

Cropped for a close-up! Blackbird enjoying apples

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Gardening for wildlife isn't complicated - honest!

One of the best things about having a wildlife friendly garden is that it can be the opposite of hard work and doesn't have to cost a lot of money either. Why not try supporting our resident and visiting beasties by being a bit (or in our case a lot!) untidy? Leave plant stems standing and let the odd corner grow wild this Winter and just see what happens.

This one is going to drop to the floor soon
Large apple is already being nibbled
Leave the last of any fruit hanging on the tree and the birds will thank you for it.

Verbena seed-head

Aster fluff
Leave flower stems standing as landing stages, ladybird roosts and seed-eater nibbles.

Leaves and logs

Immature ivy berries
 Don't cut back all your ivy, leave some leaves on the ground and let the odd log lie around to rot down quietly and provide food and habitat for the smallest bugs, birds and mammals. Add a pile of old bricks or broken pots and another of twigs or branches and you've created heaven!
Bricks, blocks and broken crocks

mixed feeders
Simple box with Great Tit visiting
 If you want to go further, pop up the odd bird box - they can be made simply and make great presents. If there is a bit of money to spare then make some space for a feeder or two and keep them topped up with nuts, seeds, fruit and suet for a wide variety of winged visitors.
There's a pond in there somewhere!
Shallow water for small birds

 Don't forget to add some water - shallow trays, broken terracotta pots, old saucers and of course, if you have the space a pond all provide water sources and habitat for all sorts of creatures.

In return not only will you get the warm fuzzy glow that comes with knowing that you are doing right by the land and the creatures we share it with but hours of enjoyment as you watch their antics and learn to identify your visitors. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Seedlist savoured - selections made

"Your order has been dispatched" - Happiness in an email!!

As promised we perused the Heritage Seed Library seed-list over the weekend and were relatively well-behaved, ordering more or less only the vegetables we needed- 2 carrots; 2 beetroot; 1 leek and ermm yes, the beautiful deep crimson red bean that just couldn't be resisted. If we are really lucky there will also be a surprise in the pack too as we get a lucky dip packet if we want one - and of course who could possibly say no?

So next Spring we will be sowing:
"Armenian" and "Blood Red" beetroot - one will be traditional ball shaped with defined rings and the other long rooted and slow to go woody.
"London Market" and "Manchester Table" carrots - one a deep red stumpy early variety and the other later and longer and more orangey.
"Coloma" Leek which is supposed early and long cropping with dark green leaves.

And oh yes, did I mention "Portuguese" the really beautiful crimson coloured climbing bean...

Thanks to all at Heritage Seed Library for another great list to choose from.

July 2012 Allotment beds - something to aspire to again

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Seasonal Day out

This weekend Stratford hosted its 2nd Victorian Christmas Fayre so on Saturday we headed out - our first trip on the bus with me in the wheelchair as we planned to be out for quite a while and didn't think I'd mange to walk that far - and had a great morning. It was very crowded in places which meant that the old claustrophobia was in danger of kicking in at times but there were just enough gaps to keep it at bay. It was great to see the town so busy and I hope the shops benefitted from the influx as much as the stall holders seemed to be.

There were lots of food and booze stalls which didn't really interest us but also a fair few crafts, local products and interesting gift stalls too so we may have made a few purchases.

Alpaca patterned hat
A great new hat made from Alpaca wool in Peru to keep my ears warm on cold Winter days.

Spotty kerchiefed reindeer
Some earrings which disappeared as soon as I picked them and J paid for them - they'll re-emerge on Christmas day for me to unwrap, I hope!

And this cheery fellow made by the stallholder and sold to support native woodland management in the area. It made us both smile so just had to come home with us - we convinced ourselves it was for a good cause!

We even managed to get a few errands done - our cards were posted to Canada in the hope that they'll evade the postal strike and reach their destinations before Christmas and I managed to pop into Marks and Spencer for some new slippers as mine were getting a bit worn.

Oh and we had to pause for a little while to enjoy the wonderful Alvechurch Morris performing in the heart of Town where all roads meet (or next to the Roundabout in front of the bank as it's known on an ordinary week day!)

Border Morris fun

Monday, 10 December 2018

Garden springing surprises on a December morning

Popped out to the bin this morning and the front garden gave me a few surprises so I thought I'd share them with you:

Scabious still hanging on
Primroses popping
Bulbs emerging

Crocuses coming along
Nigella peeking through

I can't possibly pull weeds when they look this cute!
Shades of December? Holly, Beech, Rose and Buttercup Bush

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Idea for a Meatfree Monday (or Tuesday or Any other day!) - Vegetable and Macaroni Cheese

Vegetable and Macaroni cheese bubbling beautifully

Super simple, truly tasty comfort food for a winter weekend that can also be pre-made, portioned up and frozen for a quick mid-week dinner if you need it. This one is great for using up leftover root vegetables or ones that are getting slightly limp hiding away in the fridge drawer or lurking in the freezer.

This week I used leftover roast parsnips, a large carrot that was in danger of getting past-it and some defrosted cauliflower. In the past I've added spinach, broccoli, peas and even mushrooms. Just be wary that whilst mushrooms taste wonderful in this kind of bake they can turn the sauce into a slightly unappetising shade of grey/beige - definitely not for folk who eat with their eyes as well as their taste-buds! Tubey pasta of any shape works best as the sauce gets inside but I find the smaller wholemeal macaroni really adds something tasty and vaguely virtuous to the otherwise rich and cheesy deliciousness. It can also be made using leftover cooked pasta if you want.

Parsnip, carrots and cauli mixed with pasta just waiting for the sauce

This type of meal is also easily adapted for vegan eating - just add extra herbs such as thyme or parsley to the white sauce and make sure the margarine is dairy free. Oh, and leave out the cheese of course. Sacla make a really tasty vegan pesto if you want a basil hit to your sauce and there are several other makes around too if you haven't got your own basil on the windowsill.

This one was made on Friday when J was recovering from a tooth removal so is made with softer pre-cooked veg to protect the healing wound. Normally I would only par-boil the veg if using fresh stuff to give the dish a bit more "bite" but the joy of this kind of recipe is its adaptability.

Excuse the mixed measures - what I use very much depends on what I have to hand!

For a 2 pint casserole dish I used:
approx. 200g macaroni - pre-cooked to al-dente
1 large carrot chopped into small chunks and part cooked in with the pasta
approx. 150g of cooked cauliflower - make sure you squeeze all the water out of this if you have frozen it (same applies to spinach, chard or other high water content veg)
About 2 tablespoons of roasted parsnips chunks

I layered these into a casserole dish and mixed together to make sure we got mixed flavours when I served it up.

Then I made approx 1.25 pints white sauce using a roux base of:
1 heaped tablespoon of plain flour
1 tablespoon of melted sunflower margarine
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
Ground garlic

When these are all mixed together and the flour has cooked out a bit I added slowly whilst whisking:
1 500ml container of soya milk plus about 100-150ml from another one

When all this came together to make a smooth white sauce I stirred in:
Ground black pepper
1 heaped teaspoon mixed herbs
1 heaped teaspoon green pesto (the jar was open!)
approx. 150g grated strong cheddar plus an extra 25g-ish for sprinkling on top

Pour the sauce over the veg and pasta, making sure it gets down the sides and into the layers - a wooden spoon or spatula helps with this. When all the pasta and veg were covered I sprinkled the last bit of cheese on top and baked for about 30 minutes on Gas Mark 4  until top all brown and bubbly.

This makes four good-sized portions as a stand alone meal and can be served with extra cooked veg such as peas or greens or a green salad if you want to make it go further or reduce the carb load. We were happy to have this for two days in a row but I have portioned up leftovers in the past and frozen for a quick and easy home-made ready meal that can be defrosted and microwaved for lunch.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Winter Photographic Scavenger Hunt #1

My first attempt to meet the challenge of 20 themed photos as set by Eileen over at Bracelet of Days. Find out more here on my 1st December post. My 3 for this week are:

9. Peel/Peeling.

Just ready for the compost box

10. Holly.
Last year's door wreath ready to be stripped of it's wrappings and re-dressed.

19. A carved object.
My Dad started this Green Man for me, he never had the chance to finish it but it still takes pride of place on our living room window-ledge. Just about fits the criteria as the right-hand side is rough-carved out.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Savouring the Seed List

December is the month for planning our new year vegetable growing as we look back at what has done well, what hasn't done so well and what we still have in the seed box...ermm okay I confess there are seed boxes...and then the icing on the cake -  the email that announces the new Heritage Seed Library list of seeds for members to choose from. This wonderful organisation keeps the seeds of generations gone by safe for future generations, it encourages current gardeners to keep varieties alive long after they have dropped off the commercial seed lists, and is made up of amazing Seed Guardians who grow on crops just to ensure there are sufficient seeds to share and other marvellous folk who collect, cherish and collate the seeds ready to send them out over the next few months. The focus is on open-pollinated varieties - that is varieties that will grow true from seed each year and that means you can then grow from your own seeds in future years if the variety does well for you and, most importantly, tastes good!

SO the big question is - what do we choose? We get to pick 6 varieties for our membership fee from a list of dozens and dozens of varieties. From sorting our seeds last month I know we only really need beetroot, carrots, parsnips and maybe some leeks but whilst there is only 1 variety of leek this year, there are 2 varieties of beetroot on the list and 7 of carrot so choices need to be made - interestingly there are no parsnips this year so obviously it was a problem crop for other folk over the last couple of years too. And we definitely don't need any bean or pea seeds but then again there is a beautiful crimson coloured climbing bean called Portuguese that is screaming out pick me, pick me I'm pretty pick me!!

So my friends, watch this space, some decisions need to be made this weekend and decisions aren't my strong point these days!

Beautiful bountiful beans don't really need any new companions, but...

Sunday, 2 December 2018

December Bookshelf

So what did I make of last month's pile? The Talent for murder continued to prove an interesting read and whilst I may well dip into the author's other books at some time in the future it did take me a while to get into. As anticipated the Nora Robert's Shelter in place was a brilliantly enjoyable read that got devoured over just a few days but unfortunately I just couldn't get into the Adriana Trigiani so took it back to the hospice book exchange shelf and started Katherine Arden's The bear and the nightingale instead. This beautifully written book is the first in her Winternight trilogy and I'm already hooked - I've a feeling the other 2 will soon be featuring on my bookshelf. It's rooted in Russian fairy-tales and is wonderfully atmospheric and thoroughly suited to a Midwinter read - all I'm missing is the log fire to curl up in front of!

As for the rest of December's reads - I still really want to make a start on the non-fiction pile so will pick up the Wendell Berry once I have finished The bear and the nightingale and then I think it will time to turn to the spooky mystery of Barbara Erskine's Sleeper's Castle. I've loved her books ever since I first read The lady of Hay many many years ago so this will be a real treat.

I've feeling that might well be it for books this month what with Christmas company, troublesome jigsaws and new crafty projects to try but we shall see.

December's Bookshelf...

Saturday, 1 December 2018

New challenge

Catching up on other people's blogs has become a fun part of my winding down routine in the evening and tonight I stumbled on the "Winter Photographic Scavenger Hunt" challenge posted by Eileen on The Bracelet of Days blog. So folks, I'm going to give it go. There is a list of twenty headings and we have to find a photo to meet each heading between now and the end of March 2019. I have copied and pasted the list below so you can see what you are going to get as the months go by, assuming I manage to stick with it:

1. At the end of the day
2. Pool of light
3. Fastener
4. Nail
5. A group activity
6. Water dispenser
7. Horse
8. Chocolate
9. Peel/peeling
10. Holly
11. Dressed for the season
12. Glitter
13. An instruction
14. A crossing place
15. Flight
16. A measurement

17. Orange
18. A natural feature
19. A carved object
20. A method of communication

Watch this space!

December has arrived....

And all about the house it smells of fruity spicy cake....
Christmas Cake baked and cooling in the kitchen today

And sounds like...

And whilst the cake cooked and the music played we did battle with this...

Impressionist paintings do not make easy jigsaws!

Happy December All.