Micro – Actions!

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

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.

Ingredients:

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large leek
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • olive oil
  • 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)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  • 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

Wholesome Vegetable and Bean Soup

The recipe for Focaccia was taken from an Asda seasonal brochure.

Ingredients:

  • 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!)

Method:

  • 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.
Focaccia

Focaccia

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.

Artie

Artie

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.

How many Goldfinches can you See?

How many Goldfinches can you See?

Dinner this Sunday evening was a vegetarian roast. I boiled kale, peas, sweetcorn and green beans in a pan while in the oven Quorn Turkey style slices were cooking alongside Aunt Bessie’s Herb and Garlic roast potatoes. I made some sage and onion stuffing and mixed up some vegetarian gravy. Finally I microwaved some mushy peas for David!

Beautiful, tasty roast dinner

Beautiful, tasty roast dinner

Now I am nursing a headache before the working week ahead. How have you spent your weekend?

Christine xx

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Autumn Light.

For the past few weeks now I have noticed a change in the light.

Afternoon autumn sun flooding the dining room

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!

Bird feeder

Bird feeder

Sedum and Honey Bee

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.

Picture from 2013

Picture taken 2013

Come the evening, I was busy in the kitchen making a, Peruvian Quinoa Stew(serves 3 people).

Ingredients:

  • 15og of quinoa, rinsed well
  • 200 – 250 ml of water
  • 1 onion (white) diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic sliced
  • Olive oil for frying (I use lower fat olive oil)
  • 1 celery rib chopped
  • 1 carrot sliced
  • 1 bell pepper (any colour)
  • 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)

Method:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. After everything had cooked I stirred in the cooked quinoa, warmed it up again, and adjusted the salt to taste.
  6. 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

Peruvian Quinoa Stew

And also:

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!

Christine xx

My Week Off.

The week commencing 20th April was taken as annual leave, and the sun smiled happily as I embarked on my week off work.

Monday:

I did some weeding in the garden and watched Artie sniff and hunt for flies. I then replanted (in bigger pots) seedlings I had growing of poppy and other seedlings which I later found out were coriander. (Looks like I didn’t need to buy the one from Lady Green!)

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After working in the garden I then sat and relaxed with my Kindle and soaked up some sun while it lasted.

For dinner I made a vegetarian sausage casserole with lots of vegetables. It tasted very herby!

Vegi sausage casserole

Vegi sausage casserole

Tuesday:

First thing this morning I booked ‘our’ place on the Chester Zoo member’s event, of seeing ‘Islands‘ before it officially opens to the public. (Well I hope the booking has gone through!) There are some perks to being a member after all! 🙂

Mum and I had intended on taking a trip to the Maritime Museum but I felt a little unwell, so we decided on visiting my brother Stephen and to see my nephew Aaron.

Back home, in the afternoon I spent a little more time sunbathing in the garden and enjoyed a strawberry and Bliss desert, swilled down with a small measure of whisky. It didn’t seem as hot in the sun as yesterday and I grew cold quickly as well as feeling tired.

Bliss and Strawberries

Bliss and Strawberries

For dinner, I had bought some Jersey Royals (potatoes) so had them with smoked salmon and salad… gorgeous!

Wednesday:

A lazy day today. I sat in the garden and watched Artie chase flies. I noticed that a Blue Tit was happily gathering moss from nearby gardens and flying to a bush in another. I thought that Blue Tits only nested in boxes or crevices but after doing some research I found that their nests are cup sized and can be anywhere! I also found out that the females are the only ones that make the nests, so it was a Mrs Blue Tit who I saw!

For dinner I made a spaghetti bolognese with Quorn Swedish style meatballs. I even used freshly cut oregano from the garden! It is always a very satisfying dinner.

spaghetti bolognese and Quorn Swedish style meatballs

spaghetti bolognese and Quorn Swedish style meatballs

Thursday:

While it was St George’s Day, William Shakespeare’s birthday and World Book Day, I did very little indeed. I did the usual sweated for 20 minutes on the treadmill, had a coffee and chat with mum before having lunch.

In the afternoon Artie and I spent a few hours sunning ourselves and listened to the visiting Goldfinches and Blue Tits in the nearby trees while Classic FM played on the radio. I discovered that the seedlings I transplanted on Monday, the poppies had withered but the coriander was still looking strong!

For dinner while David had a pizza, I made do with Quorn bacon, beans, egg and chips.

Quorn bacon, eggs, beans and chips

Quorn bacon, eggs, beans and chips

In the evening as the setting sun washed everything golden, I sat listening to my favourite performance of Mahler’s 6th Symphony, the andante.

Friday:

Was the last of the ‘good’ weather of the week. It has been simply splendid to have such lovely summery weather for the week off work!

David had taken a day off work and so we headed the 1.5 hours towards Wakefield to Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  We arrived after 10.30 am and paid the £8 for all day car-parking. We then spent the next five hours walking the fields that were filled with sculptures of bronze, stone, wood, all kinds of materials. We walked literally miles, my poor feet ached!

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The sculpture park is amongst the grounds of Bretton Hall Country Park which has nature trails as well as art instillations. We took a leisurely walk around the Upper Lake and spent some time amongst a Bluebell wood and old Victorian ruins.

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With gloomy looking clouds encroaching, David and I headed back to Liverpool, tired but having thoroughly enjoyed our day out in Yorkshire!

I am already planning the next day out!

The weekend came and went too quickly and it was time for me to head back to work. It has been slow for me to get back into the old routine but a long Bank Holiday weekend is near which sustains me!

Beautiful!

What a beautiful weekend it has been in the NW of England!

Above us only sky!

The sun has been shining brightly for the past three days! It has been warm as well, with temperatures peaking at 21/22 degrees C. Though it has felt warmer!

Amongst popping out to sun myself, I have been doing the obvious weekend chores like visiting the supermarket and cleaning the house. On Saturday I even accompanied David to the local tip to dispose of the pile of bricks that had come from the demolished shed. They had been lying in the middle of the yard for over a year! I was glad to be rid of them! Since their departure the yard is finally looking more like a place to unwind in the summer months after a long day!

The garden

It has not just been myself enjoying the warm sunny weather, the plants in the garden have all sprouted up and the bees have loved visiting my Scabiosa and today they were seen on my Cat Mint and Honeysuckle!

bee

Saturday, while David was busy pointing the back yard wall. I was listening to Classic FM At the Movies and cooking vegetables for our makeshift Tortilla Pizzas! Friends of ours had posted their pizzas on Facebook earlier in the week which gave me the idea for Saturday’s dinner.

Tortilla Pizza

Ingredients for Tortilla Pizza

  • Pack of tortillas
  • Tomato purée
  • Low fat mozzarella cheese
  • One red onion
  • One red pepper
  • handful of peas and sweetcorn
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • Handful of fresh oregano for sprinkling (I used leaves from the garden!)

Method:

  • Smear tomato purée onto one tortilla, leave space at the edges
  • Crumple the mozzarella on top
  • Then place the vegetables, in any order. You can use meat if you like. David had pepperoni (though not so healthy!)
  • Once complete put in oven 200 degrees or gas mark 6 for around 7 minutes or until starts to burn.
  • Take out, flake oregano on top and cut into sections. Enjoy! 🙂

Sunday, and David got up at 8am to continue to point the back yard wall. I stayed in bed snoozing until 10am! In the afternoon, after sunning myself I prepared a very easy dish for the left over tortillas.

Sweet potato spicy wraps

Ingredients for Spiced Indian Sweet Potato Wraps:

  • 3-4 sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 red chilli, cut finely
  • Oil
  • 2 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp of garam masala
  • 1 red onion thinly diced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp of sugar
  • Mayonnaise or natural yoghurt
  • Coriander for garnish

Method:

  • Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Toss the sweet potatoes with chilli, 1 tsp oil, cumin seeds, garam masala and plenty of seasoning on a roasting tray. Roast for 25-35 mins, turning wedges halfway, until tender and golden.
  • Meanwhile fry onion in remaining oil for a few mins until partly softened, stir in the lime juice and sugar with some seasoning, then turn off the heat.
  • Warm tortillas  following pack instructions, then assemble by adding a couple of wedges of sweet potato to each, followed by a scattering of onions, a dollop of yoghurt (or mayonnaise) and a small handful of coriander leaves. Roll up and eat.

I enjoyed it, but David didn’t. I gave the rest of the meal to my mum who enjoyed it too! It was spicy but not too spicy! As you may have guessed I am in sweet potato mode of late. Hopefully this week sometime I will be able to make sweet potato and lentil soup!

Who knows what the new week will hold!

Longer Days are Coming…

The nights are drawing out and the clocks have not gone back yet! However we have had a few ‘spring like’ days in the NW of England recently and whilst on my walk to work I have smelt the promise of warmer weather and longer days. Even the birds are getting ready for the new season, as whilst I was standing at the bus stop on Friday a Magpie flew overhead with nesting material! Spring is such an exciting time as the world slowly awakens from the cold grasp of winter.

This weekend I have been busy hunting for more ‘spring’ flowers for the garden with insects in mind.

David took me to my favourite garden centre Lady Green in Ince Blundell and I spent over £50 on plants! In my defence half of that was on a Magnolia, ‘water-lily’ tree, I just hope it grows. I have had two other Magnolias before and they have both died. 😦 Third time lucky I say!

Amongst the purchases I bought an Erysimim which I found out was a Wallflower and an Anemone which is a kind of Poppy! I went shopping with a list and came away with everything other than what was on the list! I just followed the RHS sign of ‘Perfect for Pollinators’

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The weather forecast for the UK this weekend was supposed to be warm with sunny spells. It did not feel like that on Saturday, it was cold, grey and miserable. So I have planned to plant my purchases tomorrow. Hopefully Sunday will be a brighter day?

Whilst pottering about the garden today I noticed my Sedum has sprung back to life! That was a plant which was covered with bees and butterflies last year so I hope it will be the same this year!! My Cat Mint and Oregano has ‘spawned’ again as has my Aquilegia, which is such a prolific plant! This will be the second spring it has reseeded itself!

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Amongst others, David’s Acer has started to re-bud and my Hellebore has grown, I have high hopes for that next winter. My Jasmine, though it looks a bit twee seems to have survived the wet winter and my Passion Flower has grown astronomical! I hope there are flowers this summer, it will look beautiful!!

Things are slowly awakening and hopefully once the warmer days are upon us, the garden will start to have the buzzing of insects and the chinking of wine glasses! I can’t wait to sit and enjoy my outside space. I have been stuck inside for way too long! Fingers crossed there will be at least as good if not better summer than last year ahead! We can but pray!

Christine xx

Birthday Cheer and Gardening.

Today was David’s 39th birthday!! We celebrated by going to garden centres near Chester with his mum, dad and sister.

We have purchased lots of wildlife friendly plants for the garden. I am very happy with my small collection of herbs, amongst which I bought, Marjoram, Basil and Oregano. Today I came away from the garden centres with a Jasmine and a passion fruit! David got some plants for his alpine rockery.

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Amongst the plants I photographed a Peacock Butterfly, looking beautiful on a Buddleia and also spotted a Silver Y Moth!

DSC06680 DSC06677

On the way back home we crossed the Runcorn Bridge and I had to get my camera out to film the footage!