Sunday Sevens #24

I thought I’d scrape some pictures together and participate once again in this weeks Sunday Sevens devised by Natalie.

Baking: I ended last week’s Sunday Sevens with a picture of David’s endeavours. I’ll begin this week with another of his creations. It took five hours to make, baking in the oven for 1.5 hours but the result was a bouncy sponge with soft coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache to decorate.

Reading: This week I finished Katherine Webb’s The English Girl. Susanna from Fred the Needle asked if I would review the book, so here’s some of my thoughts. Despite the story not being as strong as Webb’s first two books The Legacy and The Unseen, The English Girl was a far better story than The Night Falling. Webb used the Jebel War of 1958-59 as the backdrop to the novel. It is another of those weaving dual narratives. The two protagonists are Maude Vickary in the 1900’s and Joan Seabrook in the 1950’s. The main theme is adventure, of two women breaking the bonds of society and finding themselves (or losing themselves) to the desert wastes of Oman. I found Joan’s character rather wishy-washy and I wished she would stop faffing about and make a decision. I preferred reading the story of Maude and her adventures of trying to be the first woman/Westerner to cross the Empty Quarter. Her struggle across huge dunes and facing sheer exhaustion was well described. I had my hand to my mouth when she encountered a camel spider (look them up) and shocked at her betrayal, but I won’t spoil the end for you! All in all it wasn’t a bad read. It took me a whole year to read The Night Falling. I read The English Girl in a fraction of that time. If you enjoy Arabian adventures then this novel is for you!

Have you read it? Let me know what you think?

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Walk 1000 miles: I’ve walked 21.4 miles this week, a touch better than last week. While on my daily walk to the bus stop to work, I noticed the central reservation was awash with the golden heads of daffodils. It certainly brought to mind the iconic William Wordsworth poem. ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’

Wildlife: On Thursday my eyes spied a small green/brown bird flitting around the yarden. It was the size of a blue tit, but it wasn’t a blue tit. It was a chiffchaff. I only see these birds once a year. They must pass through the city on way to woodland for the summer. I reached for my camcorder but the camera wasn’t charged, so an old video I took in 2013 will just have to do!

Pets: This weekend has been a stressful one! On Saturday I witnessed our new parrot finch, Leaf attacking our other newbie, Gouldian finch, Set! Afterwards, David managed to pick Set up and noticed the damage Leaf had done. His feathers around his head and eyes had been plucked, leaving red skin exposed. Poor Set was scared so much he just sat in David’s hand. We noticed that Set still had his baby mouth. He must only be as young as six months old!

I have read that if there is an aggressor in an aviary, then the only course of action is to take the aggressor away. That was when our problem began. We managed to isolate Leaf and his other parrot friend, Forrest from the aviary, but the only other cage we had was the hospital cage which was where Set was recovering in. Our other cage, the one in which our aviary had begun five years ago was at David’s Mum’s housing their two budgies.

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Leaf and Forrest’s new home

Kindly, David’s Mum and Dad said that we could have our cage back as they had one which could house their budgies until they got a bigger cage. I was so relieved, more so when back at home the two parrot finches explored the cage and were soon housed in it.

Set has recovered from his ordeal and though still looking a little worse for wear he has been reintegrated into the aviary with the more placid finches. Leaf and Forrest are flitting about their new home, they never keep still for long, hence needing a bigger cage to house them.

Who would have guessed such small birds would cause so much distress!

Cooking: For Saturday’s dinner I cooked a three bean quinoa chili. The recipe was very versatile and I substituted a few ingredients to what I had in the store-cupboard. I served it with oven baked tortillas and a crisp glass of white wine. It made for a healthy and filling meal. Definitely one to make again.

Gardening: This Sunday David and I spent some time in the yarden planting our Centurion onions. I snapped some pictures of Stellata magnolia and dwarf rhododendron flowers. The yarden is definitely awakening!

So that was my week. How have you spent yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

2016 – A Year in Food.

With New Year drawing closer, it got me thinking what posts I should do as a round up of the year! One idea was ‘a year in food,’ to post 12 pictures that give a flavour of 2016! I have followed many recipes this year and prepared hundreds of dishes, (some successful, others not!), so I thought I would do a little summary.

I hope you enjoy!

January:

 At the start of the New Year I was determined to make meals that were filling, yet healthy and with produce that help reduce cholesterol. So one of the meals I made was a Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chilli soup.

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Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chilli Soup

Lentils are a good source of fiber, help with stabilising blood sugars and promote heart health.

You can find the original recipe here.

February:

The 28th of February was Global Scouse Day! Scouse is the signature dish of the city of Liverpool, usually made with meat. I prefer this vegetarian version with butter-beans called Blind Scouse.

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Blind Scouse

You can find the original recipe here:

March:

One recipe I have returned to time and time again this year has been this One Pan Mexican Quinoa. It is healthy, filling and can be used with either quinoa or brown rice. It’s a very versatile dish. I see me making this for many years to come.

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One Pan Mexican Quinoa

You can find the original recipe here: 

April:

This Pearl Barley Risotto with a crumbling of goats cheese would have been nice if it wasn’t for the very off putting buttery taste. I may attempt the recipe again, but leave out the butter!

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Pearl Barley Risotto

You can find the original recipe here:

May:

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Vegetable and Quorn Sausage Frittata

I am not a big lover of eggs, but this 4-6 egg Vegetable and Quorn Sausage Frittata was surprisingly filling and enjoyable.

June:

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Sea Turtle loaves

As I participated in The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild. I decided to get creative in the kitchen and made some mini loaves in the shape of Sea Turtles.

You can find the original recipe here:

July:

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Bramley Apple Pie

One of David’s friends kindly gifted us a load of Bramley apples. For weeks after I was baking and eating apple pies! They were yummy though!

The recipe I used was one by the Hairy Bikers.

August:

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Vegetable Tagine

I got the recipe for this Vegetable Tagine from a free Asda booklet. It makes a tasty dish with lots of different textures. For David, I complete it by topping it with a chicken breast, while for myself, I chop up a Quorn chicken style fillet for added protein.

September: 

A meal we don’t make too often and we should as it’s yummy, are these Spicy Mexican Bean Burgers. The recipe can be changed for any type of beans found in your store-cupboard. I serve with mounds of fresh salad.

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Spicy Mexican Bean Burger

October: 

I am not a big fan of pastry, however I decided to try this Indian Samosa Casserole. I like Indian spices so that was a plus. It served 3 to 4 people generously. I will definitely be trying the recipe again.

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Indian Samosa Caserole

You can find the original recipe here:

November:

Another dish I have made quite a few times this year is this Quinoa and Bean Soup. The original recipe called for white beans but I just used whatever beans I found in the store-cupboard! I have cooked a lot with quinoa this year due to its many health benefits.

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Quinoa and Bean Soup

December:

For the final meal, I thought I would choose the wonderful Curried Red Lentils. I have been cooking this easy peasy dish since the summer. I even make a big batch of them and take them to work. They are scrumptious, keep me fueled all afternoon and are healthy! I even throw in a teaspoon of turmeric just for its cancer busting properties!

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Curried Red Lentils

You can find the original recipe here:

So there you have it, a flavour of my 2016!

Let me know if you have tried any of the recipes featured? Or my post has inspired you to try some of them!

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #4

Saturday 19th March 2016 was Earth Hour, so I plunged David and I into darkness for one hour between 8.30-9.30pm. Did you partake in the hour?

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Earlier that evening, after a busy day of ‘spring’ cleaning, I made a One Pan Mexican Quinoa. I tweaked the recipe a little, omitting the avocado and lime but added a red onion and small pepper. I also 20160319_180028 (2)changed the sweetcorn to peas as David doesn’t like corn!

The meal was simple, just cut the vegetables and measure the quinoa and then pop them all into a pan with beans, stock and tinned tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes, until the quinoa releases its tails! The outcome was a fresh, tasting meal. I will definitely be making it again in the future!

On Thursday the postman delivered some lovely news. My tickets for the Hans Zimmer concert in April at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena arrived!! I was so happy!

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That same day while making a cup of tea, I peered out of the kitchen window towards the back garden and my eyes spied a small bird flitting about the tree branches. It was a little Wren! He stayed long enough for me to video him!

The beginning of the week saw lovely blue skies and spring-like temperatures hit the NW of England. David, Artie and I spent some much needed time in the garden, cleaning away old foliage and soaking up the warm rays of the sun. I noticed that there are lots of tulips growing again this season and there are some plants I don’t even know what they are! Perhaps you recognise them?

20160317_175108It’s been two weeks since I planted my seeds of french beans, spring onions and peppers. I have hundreds of beans and onions growing! I don’t know where in the garden I will put them once they are ready to be planted outside! After some studying I read that french beans grow up to a meter in height! I am also going to need some bamboo sticks for support! How do you think my seedlings are coming along?

Do you have any spring projects on the go?

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Threads and Bobbins.

One-pot Curried Quinoa with Butternut Squash with Chickpeas

I had recently seen a recipe on the blog Oh My Veggies that looked absolutely delicious. Oh My Veggies is a blog based on vegetarian/vegan recipes using fresh, seasonal vegetables.

I have been wanting to try butternut squash for some time and decided that the time was perfect!

David was not so sure, but he ate the final result!

One-pot Curried Quinoa with Butternut Squash and Chickpeas

Ingredients: makes 4

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 300-400ml of light coconut milk, (I just used skimmed milk)
  • 150 ml of water
  • 100g of quinoa, rinsed well
  • Salt, plus more to taste
  • 450-500g of  butternut squash
  • 2 mixed peppers (I used red and yellow)
  • 150g of frozen vegetables, I used peas and green beans
  • 1 400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Method:

  1. Add the olive oil to a large pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and saute until translucent and tender, 3-4 minutes.
  2. Stir in the curry powder, ginger, turmeric, and cardamom. Sauté for 30 seconds, until fragrant, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the coconut milk, water, quinoa, butternut swuash and peppers, and 1 teaspoon salt, scraping the bottom of the pot to remove any stuck bits. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the frozen vegetables and chickpeas. Return the lid to the pot and cook for 5-15 minutes more, or until the quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  5. After the quinoa is done, turn off the heat and let sit, covered, until the vegetables and chickpeas are warmed through, 5-6 minutes.
  6. Taste and add additional lemon juice and salt if desired. Garnish with parsley and serve (optional). I missed this part altogether
One pot curried quinoa and butternut squash

One pot curried quinoa with butternut squash and chickpeas

I am thankful for David and my mum for attempting to eat my creations, though a few days later, mum said that she would not eat the butternut squash stew again. 😮

A-MA-ZING!!

Can I say that one more time?

AMAZING!!

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Method:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  2. 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.)
  3. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, (about 30 seconds.)
  4. Pour in the tomatoes, green beans and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavour.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Remove the pan from heat.Taste and season with more salt, pepper. Serve immediately.
Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup

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. 😀

Have a pleasant week ahead.

 

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