Last week, after a traumatic Saturday, in which my road witnessed a tragic, sad event. Sunday dawned bleakly. David and I decided it was time to sew the seeds I had bought. We planted sweet peppers, spring onions and green beans, in the hope that something will grow come summer. I am waiting for the frosts to end so I can plant maris bard potatoes and my dahlia tubers.
Now after a week of sitting in front of the window in the guest bedroom, we have shoots finally pushing through the soil! There is hope yet!
Mum decided to treat me on Tuesday with a little trip to Costa for a cappuccino and a toasted teacake. It was very restorative.
This was the final week of my Future Learn course: Literature and Mental Health. The six week course has been tremendous and I have loved reading an eclectic mix of poetry, novels and plays. The course has me reading again after a lull of some time and has inspired me to re-read Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.
Aura by David Evans
It was decided that we should capture our elderly and much loved, Lady Gouldian Finch, Aura to clip his overgrowing beak. Last November Aura had the same problem and we don’t know if it was connected but he became very ill. He had fits and lay about the bottom of the cage looking exhausted. It was by fluke that his beak was sheered to its proper size and we started him on vitamin supplements. I put it down to David having healing hands and Aura was nursed back to life. Perhaps it was malnourishment due to an inability to eat with an over long beak? Either way I didn’t want a recurrence. So David captured Aura, not without some stress as the other finches were flying about the room! I held him and David clipped the tip of his beak. He seems much better now!
On Friday I didn’t have a clue what to make for the evening’s dinner. To be honest I am feeling a bit fed up with cooking. I find it exhausting looking for new recipes. So David defrosted the final serving of his curry base and made a vegetable karahi. It indeed had a kick to it!
The weekend was spent doing the usual, shopping, cleaning, cooking. Artie was exhausted!
While Artie slept during the evening. I decided to dress up, even if it was just for a salad dinner at our house, Bistro No. 49!
What kind of foods do you enjoy? Have you read any good books recently?
Standing firm against the gales of storm Henry, Artie and I ventured out into the back garden while the winter sun shone with the promise of longer, warmer days to come. In fact today was quite mild, dare I jinx it and say the whole season has been wet, windy and mild?!
It may have been just a brief half an hour that we were outside, but it was time well spent. At present I am feeling rather cooped up! So today when I saw the sun shining I knew that I should spend my lazy morning tending to my spring shoots.
The first thing that catches the eye is the white and purple flashes of Hellebore flower heads. I love Hellebores, or Christmas Roses, they are such good growers and always a welcome colour in the more shaded areas of the garden.
With Goldfinches squeaking at me to leave the garden, so they could have their breakfast of sunflower hearts, I noticed many tips of green shoots breaking through the damp soil! There are a number of tall Tulip bulbs sprouting and I think I have some welcome Snowdrops (they never grew last year), but they seem to be getting eaten by something so I never get to see them bloom!
The Hyacinth has been going strong since Christmas and has a twin growing along side it now!
I managed to replant the sad looking Lavender. I took it from its patio pot and placed it where there is some space in the main garden area. In front of this I also replanted some seedlings of the Poppy seeds I had growing. I hope they take to their new home and flourish!
Lavender and Poppy relanting
With all this replanting, I have made space now for five patio pots to be free for when I attempt to grow some vegetables later in the year.
Last year I bought seeds for Spring Onions, Green Beans and Peppers. I have not attempted to grow my own vegetables before so I wonder if any of them will survive?
Have you ever attempted to grow your own vegetables? Did you get much harvest? Have any tips?
This past week I have embarked on the You with Jamie Oliver app. It’s all about positive changes you can do, one little step at a time. You are set daily/weekly challenges. Previous one’s I have had were, ‘the best part of the day‘, ‘what makes you happy‘, and ‘think positive.‘ You take a picture to symbolise the topic. One was to show ‘beauty around you.’ So I took a picture of a Passion Flower.
Honey Bee and Passion Flower
This past week however I have found it rather difficult to be positive, what with the boiler being serviced and a leaking pump found! It made us £300 the poorer, though come the winter we will hopefully be toasty!
This weekend has been fun. We had planned on going to Chester Zoo before our membership ran out, but the weather was dodgy so we spent the weekend at home.
It was Saturday after 4.30pm which I really enjoyed. With the radio cranked up as Classic FM’s Saturday Night at the Movies, celebrated Hans Zimmer’s music. I embarked on chopping vegetables and cooking the evening dinner. I used and adapted Jools Oliver’s Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup. My volumes are to serve three people.
1 large leek
2 cloves of garlic
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 x 400 g tin of borlotti or cannellini beans. (I used borlotti beans)
1 litre low salt vegetable
Hand full of barley
35 g baby spinach or kale (I used kale)
150 g frozen peas/ green beans. (I just used a handful of peas and 75g of green beans)
Freshly ground black pepper
Start by preparing the base of your soup. Peel, roughly chop the carrot and potato, trim, wash and roughly chop the leek. Peel and very finely slice the garlic, chop the onion and then pick and finely chop the rosemary.
Heat a lug of oil in a large pan on a medium heat, then add the rosemary. Fry for a few minutes, then add the chopped carrot, leek, onion and garlic. Cook gently for around 15 minutes, or until soft, stirring regularly, with the lid on.
Add the beans (drained), chopped potato (small,) and a hand full of barley. Then finally add the stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes – add a little more stock or water if you think it needs it. (Leave the lid on.)
Finally, add the spinach or kale and chopped green beans/peas, and cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the greens are cooked but still vibrant green. (Keep the lid on.) Have a taste and season, if needed, then tuck in.
Serve with bread… I was requested to make Focaccia.
Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup
The recipe for Focaccia was taken from an Asda seasonal brochure.
250g of Strong White Bread Flour
1 level tsp salt
7g of easy bake yeast
2tbsp of reduced fat olive oil
On red onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Chopped sprigs of fresh oregano, (I used some from the garden!)
Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl
Pour in the oil and used 15ml of tepid water, mix the ingredients together to form a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and begin to need, adding more flour until the dough is of a smooth texture.
Place the dough in a bowl and put somewhere warm for 45 minutes, until doubled in size.
While the dough is proving, chop and fly the red onion and garlic. Leave to one side once cooked.
Chop some oregano and leave to one side
Once the dough has risen, knock back and then flatten into required shape.
With your finger press small indentations into the top of the dough and then sprinkle the onion, garlic and oregano on top.
Put in a pre warmed oven at gas mark 6/200° and cook for 30-35 minutes, until golden.
Remove from oven, and serve.
Sunday was a lovely early Autumn day. The sun shone and David and I spent over three hours in the garden, cleaning and pruning. I planted some of my bulbs, of Aliums and Snake Heads for the coming spring. Fingers crossed they grow!
Artie enjoyed spending time in the garden and in between terrorising the bumblebees and honey bees, he relaxed taking in the sun.
We still have many birds visiting the feeders, and not an hour goes by that numerous Goldfinches are seen feasting on the Sunflower/Nyger seeds.
I’ve been talking about the experience all afternoon and evening! I simply can’t get over it! It’s always only me that sees it! I’ve joked with David that I must be ‘high’ on something! That quinoa last night must have been infected with mould, as this afternoon, after preparing my Sunday dinner, I looked out of the kitchen window to see if there was any bird activity at the feeders and there it was! A Sparrowhawk!
I wish I had my camera to hand as it’s just my word to say that it was in the garden, but there it was attacking whatever was sheltering in the Laurel Bush, probably a Sparrow or Starling!
I gasped in amazement and then it turned its orange eyes towards me before it spread its wings and flew off.
I have seen a Sparrowhawk in the area before, in 2012, the day of my father’s funeral. Today, one was in the garden looking for it’s lunch!
The whole incident happened so fast that I am writing this account so as to remember it!
I have no pictures myself of the Sparrowhawk, so I have had to borrow from Google/YouTube. The below footage is by Brian Ewen.
After some reading I have discovered that if a Sparrowhawk is in your garden then it is a sign of a healthy population of birds/prey. I like to see it as a healthy micro-system. I have put feeders in my garden to encourage small birds like the Blue Tit, Dunnock and Goldfinch. This in turn has encouraged Pigeons and Starlings to visit. This movement and frenzied activity has alerted the next stage of the chain. The predator, like the Sparrowhawk.
The system is very like that of my planting for bees, butterflies and moths. Their presence in the garden has brought the arrival of Swallows to feast on the abundance of insects. It certainly shows that we are all interconnected.
I have read that some people dislike Sparrowhawks being in their neighbourhood. I have to accept that even Sparrowhawks need to feed otherwise they will starve to death.
On the RSPB website it states that Sparrowhawk numbers were heavily in decline due to pesticides used in farming from the 1950’s onwards. Thankfully, numbers seem to be on the increase due to the banning of certain chemicals. The RSPB also states that the predation of Sparrowhawks on songbirds has ‘no or little impact on songbird populations.’ The Wildlife Trust produced a report on the predation of songbirds and concluded that songbird ‘numbers over the last few decades should not be blamed on predation by Sparrowhawks and Magpies.’
In my area there are not just Magpies, but other crows and Seagulls present. Recently, there seems to be a healthy balance of numbers from the smaller birds. I counted at one time, up to, if not exceeding 20 Goldfinches, 10 House Sparrows and over 20 Starlings, mostly fledglings. Pigeon numbers seem to be increasing steadily also.
The presence of predators therefore does seem to indicate that there are a healthy number of smaller birds. Chris Mead from Jacobi Jayne & Company states, ‘numbers of Sparrowhawks are controlled by the numbers of their prey.’ I like to think that since I have been encouraging Goldfinches, House Sparrows and Starlings to my garden that I am creating a healthy ecosystem where there is enough prey numbers for a predator to flourish. Time will tell if the Sparrowhawk will return.
I have been researching the presence of Sparrowhawks in Liverpool, and have come across a number of blogs from 2010 and 2012 stating Sparrowhawk sightings. It’s not uncommon for Sparrowhawks to predate in city gardens. However, I just find it amazing that one appeared in my inner city garden, though more like a yard than a garden!! I am feeling proud that I have made a little oasis in a rather built up area. 🙂
And in other news:
I seemed to have been on a health kick recently. I have been treadmilling, doing squats and abdominal workouts daily. I don’t know whether this is the fact that I have lost an inch around the chest and half an inch from the waist. Either way I think healthy eating has helped.
Lentils are a great source of protein and low in calories. They lower your cholesterol and help maintain blood sugar levels. So, today I made a Vegan, Spicy Lentil Soup. I got the recipe from Cookie and Kate. Though I changed a few quantities and added a potato and green beans.
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 celery sticks chopped
1 small potato, chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
Handful of green beans chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon dried thyme
400g can of diced tomatoes
200g of green lentils
1 litre of vegetable stock, reduced salt. I used two cubes
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Warm the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion, celery and potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent, (about 5 minutes.)
Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, (about 30 seconds.)
Pour in the tomatoes, green beans and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavour.
Pour in the lentils and stock. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
Transfer 450ml of the soup to a blender. Protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid and purée the soup until smooth. Pour the puréed soup back into the pan and warm up.
Remove the pan from heat.Taste and season with more salt, pepper. Serve immediately.
Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup
The soup turned out really well. Though it looked more brown than the original recipe. (It doesn’t look very appetising from the picture, but believe me it was very appetising and healthy). It made four bowls, so have enough for tomorrows dinner. 😀
For the past few weeks now I have noticed a change in the light.
Afternoon autumn sun flooding the dining room
The shadows have become longer. The sunlight during the day has become more stark, almost piercing. The seasons are changing without us hardly knowing! Autumn is arriving, creeping silently into summer. The days are becoming shorter. Soon it will be night by 4pm! For now, I am valuing every minute of light. Savouring the last bloom of flowers and the remaining buzz of bees before nature slows down for winter.
Part of me wants to mourn the loss of the light, but autumn brings its own pleasures. Like the frenzied activity at the bird feeders and the Sedum finally flowering after budding for so long!
Sedum and Honey Bee
Today I have been making ready the house for autumn and the coming winter. The windows got a good clean and the voiles have all been washed. I have also changed the bedroom curtains from the sky blue to the teal in preparation for the darker evenings to come.
Handful of green beans, chopped. You can use any variety of vegetables
200ml of vegetable stock (I used reduced salt)
400g of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of chilli powder (I used medium)
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (put more in if you like heat)
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Fresh, chopped coriander for garnish, if preferred. (I left out)
I rinsed the quinoa. Placed it in a small pan with the 200ml – 250ml of water and cooked, over a medium heat, for about 15 minutes or until soft. Then I set aside with a lid on the pot to absorb the remaining water.
While the quinoa cooked, I had a second pan on the hob. I chopped and sautéed the onions, then added the garlic in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes over a low to medium heat. It may have taken a little longer for me as I was busy chopping the other vegetables while the onion cooked.
Then I peeled and sliced the carrot. Washed and chopped the celery. I added both to the cooking onion and garlic and cooked for a further 5 minutes, stirring often so nothing stuck or burnt to the pan. It took longer as I had the hob on a lower heat.
After chopping the bell pepper and green beans, I added them to the pan with the other vegetables and then added the tin of tomatoes, along with the spices (cumin, chilli powder, coriander, cayenne and oregano). I let them blend together for just a few minutes and then poured in the stock. I covered the pan and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, maybe longer, until the vegetables were tender
After everything had cooked I stirred in the cooked quinoa, warmed it up again, and adjusted the salt to taste.
Add chopped coriander if needed. (I left out)
While the quinoa had cooked and the vegetables were simmering in their covered pan. I stood by the sink and washed the knives and measuring jugs used in the preparation. I gazed out of the window and cherished the bird antics going on before my eyes.
I counted up to 17 Goldfinches at the sunflower and nyger seed feeders. Amongst them were still some babies flapping their wings, begging! Pigeons pecked at the off-casts the Goldfinches threw out and the visiting Dunnock hopped among the vines of the climbing Passion Flower snatching at insects!
I am happy to report that the Sparrows are still visiting in numbers. There were at least five on the feeders and I watched on as three Sparrows had discovered my ground cage feeder and were happily guzzling the dried meal-worms I had left out for the Dunnock. A Sparrow and Starling fought for the right to feast on the fat block sitting in the Laurel bush. The Sparrow won!
The meal finally came together. I must say the spices were rather muted, maybe some more or an added chilli could have helped? It was however a filling and healthy meal, though my mum disliked the quinoa ‘tails’!
Peruvian Quinoa Stew
I have done some more research on quinoa and its ‘tails.’ The seed is from South America and was the staple diet of the Incas. The tails are not tails at all, actually they are the endosperm of the seed. The nutrition or power house for the growing seed, much like the albumin of an egg. According to BBC Good Food, quinoa, is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine amino acids. It is a fantastic wheat free choice and is highly digestible. It has twice the protein content of rice and barley and is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and dietary fibre.
The health benefits speak for itself. I think I’ll be cooking with this little seed a lot more in the future! 🙂
Have you eaten any good meals with quinoa? I would love to know your thoughts on this super seed!