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

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30 Days Wild…Week Four.

As I embark on the last week of The Wildlife Trust‘s 30 Days Wild, it becomes important more than ever, to continue to value and respect the wildlife that is around us.

Monday:

I find it difficult to enjoy nature while I am out and about going to work. However today I snapped a picture of a flower that was gracing the gates of my employment. I did a quick Google search and found that it was a Rosa canina, or Dog Rose which is a deciduous shrub.

White heart shaped petal flower

White heart shaped petal flower

Tuesday:

James Horner

James Horner

Though not nature orientated, I woke up this morning to the sad news that composer James Horner had died in an aeronautics accident. I admired Horner’s music well before Hans Zimmer’s. My first CD of his, was his stunning American Civil War soundtrack to the film Glory!


The weather turned out to be half decent today. In the afternoon I managed to sit out and potter about my garden. The Passion Flower has grown ‘madly’ again and has hundreds (maybe an exaggeration) of buds on it! There are also purple flowers on the Hebe!

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Wednesday:

I decided to follow a suggestion from the 101 ‘wild’ things to do which was to watch a nature webcam. Years ago I used to visit a websi from a farm in Yorkshire, called Marlfield. The website is called Lambwatch. (It’s best viewed on IE.) I checked it out today and found that they not only have one webcam pointed at a field, which during spring is filled with lambs, but have three others! One of which was a webcam in a Swallows nest. Knowing I love Swallows I spent a good hour watching the brood of about 4 growing baby Swallows.

I wonder if the visiting Swallows near me will also be feeding a brood of similar size? I shall have to wait until they fledge, it was mind July last year! I shall keep my eyes towards the sky!

Thursday: – Norwich… ‘a fine city!’ (Indeed!)

Thursday was the beginning of our night away to Norwich to see the Go Go Dragons street art exhibition! Mum kindly looked after Artie while we were gone the night.

It was not the first time we have gone on a hunt for dragons. The first was in 2010 in Newport!

Newport dragon 2010

Newport dragon 2010

We set off on the M62 around 9am. I didn’t see much nature along the motorways, save for a few silhouettes of Buzzards and Kestrels hunting and along the A11 there was a field full of purple and white foxgloves!

We got to Norwich by 1.30pm and spent the next two hours walking around the city streets. The weather was very humid and come the evening the sun shone through heavy laden clouds.

We first visited Norwich two years ago when we popped in, on our way to Colchester, to see their Go Go Gorillas trail.

Go Go Gorilla - Optimus Prime

Go Go Gorilla – Optimus Prime

I was impressed by the artistic talent, so much so that come news that dragons were going to grace the city’s streets I had to pay them a visit!

The dragons I think even surpassed the gorillas! Here are just a few from the first day!

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With tired feet we made our way to the B&B for the night. We stayed at the same B&B, 175 Newmarket Road, and incidentally the same room as two years ago!

175 Newmarket Road, Norwich

175 Newmarket Road, Norwich

For the evening’s meal we went to The Merchant’s of Spice, curry house north of the River Wensum. David ordered Chicken Tikka Pasanda, which was flavoursome while I had the Vegetable Karahi which was filled with peppers, green beans and new potatoes. The naan was nice though was drizzled with a lot of butter! The atmosphere of the restaurant was luxurious and the ambient music was not overpowering. The service was efficient and they cleaned unused plates and cutlery swiftly. At the end of the meal we were once again handed orange soaked hot towels to wipe our hands, always a plus in my book! 😀

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Friday:

We had breakfast early on Friday so we could leave the B&B and head into Norwich before 9am! While we were packing I noticed a colourful Jay amongst the tree canopy around the house. It moved too quickly for me to get a picture so one of David’s taken on a day trip to Yorkshire Wildlife Park will have to do!

Jay

Jay

I must comment that Norwich has fully embraced planting for wildlife and on most of their roundabouts and along the sides of dual carriageways there is an abundance of wild flowers!

We spent the next four hours walking the city’s streets with map in hand! The positive of following a trail map is that you get to see parts of the city you wouldn’t necessarily see! There are some lovely churches and narrow tudor-esque streets in Norwich. However the north of the city is a bit derelict, like many towns. We found ourselves in a part of the city that was covered in graffiti! We did not feel safe! So we hurried back south towards the river.

We saw 31 dragons on the Thursday and the Friday we saw a total of 32! So we saw 63 out of the 84 dragons on the streets, though we did see several more but could not take photos!

Here are some of my favourite dragons from Friday’s hunt!

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Even though we never got to see the whole 84 dragons, I found following the trail map more satisfying than going to see them all in one place which we did last year when we went to Aberdeen to see ‘all’ the dolphins!

Wild Dolphins

Wild Dolphins

Here’s a selection of some of the art work found on the dragons and of David and myself posing with our favourites! 😀

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After lunch at around 1.30pm we said goodbye to Norwich and set off on our journey home, and what a ‘long’ journey home it turned out to be! Instead of the 4.5 hours it should have took us, our journey lasted over 7 hours! Arriving home around 9pm!

There was news of the M6 being shut around junction 16 and then the A14 was at a snails pace. There was nothing to do but to try and stay cheery, listen to the radio and try to keep hydrated and well fed. We took regular breaks. We tried to get the sat-nav to navigate around the blocked part of the M6 but it wanted us to go further afield into Wales, so we decided to see what was in store for us on the motorway!

We paid the £5.50 to go on the M6 toll and the first junction was at a stand still. I thought that it was a waste of money but once we past the first junction it was smooth travelling until the M6 toll merged into the M6. Then the travelling was in fits and starts, so much so that I got a migraine with the stress. I thought we would never get home and my phone decided to die! We stopped off at Keele Services and had a fast food dinner! It was not what I had planned. I had planned something more healthy, after the curry the night before, but there was nothing to be done. So a Burger King it was. I had a vegi wrap while David had a chicken sandwich and chips. I also had a Costa coffee which, with the Zomig I had taken, helped ease the migraine!

For the next two hours, though fuelled, we continued on our slow journey home. To break the monotony David said I should take some pictures of the Cheshire countryside.

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On our arrival home, we were welcomed by a familiar sight. Artie looking out of the window at us!

Artie welcoming us home

Artie welcoming us home

Saturday:

Back home to ‘normality!’ I found that the Passion Flower had started to bloom! There was one sitting proud for all to see! I look forward to many more budding!

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

For Saturday’s dinner I made a healthy Roasted Pepper and Bean soup.

Ingredients:

  1. Two pointed peppers sliced in half
  2. One red onion sliced in quarters
  3. Two garlic cloves
  4. One chilli chopped
  5. 500ml of reduced vegetable stock
  6. Tin of choppd tomatoes
  7. Tin of cannellini beans
  8. Pepper to season
  9. Serve with wholemeal bread

Method:

  1. Put peppers, onion and garlic on a roasting tin and roast for 20 mins on oven 200°/gas mark 6
  2. Chop the chilli
  3. In pan put in stock, chilli, tomatoes, and beans and warm to simmering
  4. Once skin is blackened on peppers take out of oven, strip and chop
  5. Return chopped, peppers, onion and garlic into pan
  6. Season with pepper
  7. Cook for 20 minutes

I served the soup with Wholemeal granary bread that I had made and David had shaped into dogs!

Red Pepper and Bean Soup with Dog shaped Wholemeal bread

Roasted Pepper and Bean Soup with Dog shaped Wholemeal bread

Sunday:

I spent today’s lunch with our finches. We let them fly around the living room at weekends. Here’s a selfie I took with Chocolate our Bengalese Finch, she was getting very close to me!

Chocolate and Christine

Chocolate and Christine

More webcams! This time from Paradise Park in Cornwall. They are streaming a webcam from their Red Panda den. Their female panda has had cubs. You can view the webcam here: http://paradisepark.org.uk/events-and-news/webcams/

I think I am going to have to attempt to separate the Borage seedlings either today or sometime during next week! Look how much they have grown in a month!

Borage seedlings

Borage seedlings

There are only two more day’s of June and 30 Days Wild, but I will continue to admire the nature that is around me in the coming weeks/months. Will the Borage and Teasel seedlings bloom? How many Passion Flowers will I get? Will I see any fledgling Swallows? Only time will tell!

A Typical Saturday!

Most of my Saturday’s start with a trip to the shops. There is only two of us and Artie (the cat), living in the house, but every weekend the shopping bill nears or exceeds £100!! 😮

Today’s shopping consisted of buying lots of fruit and vegetables and cat treats! 🙂 People say I spoil Artie, but with a face like this, how can I not?! 😀

Artie

Artie

Usually by noon we are home, the shopping is put away and I have attempted some kind of flower display with a new bouquet I have bought!

Recent flower display

Recent flower display

We occasionally have lunch in the living room. David lets the finches come out of their aviary to stretch their wings and fly around the room. Today, Chocolate and Romeo the Society Finches sat on the sofa with me!

Chocolate and Romeo the Society Finches

Chocolate and Romeo the Society Finches

After lunch, it is all about cleaning the house. It can take up to two hours! If I am alone, it can take more! David helps by vaccuming while I do the dusting, dining room and bathroom.

If it is sunny outside then I forego doing the floors until Sunday and go out into the garden and enjoy the flowers, birds and insects.

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Today though, it was cold and cloudy so after doing the chores I listened to Classic FM and noticed a House Sparrow visiting the feeders.

After 5pm I turn my attention to the kitchen. I listen to Saturday Night at the Movies while making a start on the evenings meal. Tonight’s meal was my version of a Mexican Bean and Vegetable Soup with home-made Wholemeal mini loaves. I got the recipe from the Change for Life website/recipe app, though I adapted it.

Recipe for Mexican Bean and Vegetable Soup:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil for pan
  • 2-3 garlic cloves crushed/chopped
  • 2 small onions chopped
  • 1 chilli chopped
  • 1 pepper chopped
  • 2 celery ribs chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder (I used medium)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 850ml of vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 can mixed beans
  • 1 can sweetcorn or frozen
  • Handful of red lentils (it was a last minute addition)
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander (I got ours from the garden!)
  • Pinch of ground black pepper and salt to taste
Coriander

Coriander

Method:

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion until softened.
  • Then add the celery, pepper, chilli and garlic and cook for 5-10 minutes (use your discretion as to when to stop cooking.)
  • Add the chilli powder and the tomatoes and bring to the boil.
  • Pour in the stock and add the tomato puree, mixed beans, sweetcorn (drained if tinned) and lentils (if using). Heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
  • Add the coriander (if using) and season with some salt and pepper. Ladle into warm bowls and serve with a slice of wholemeal bread
Mexican Bean and Vegetable Soup

Mexican Bean and Vegetable Soup with Wholemeal Mini Loaves

For the wholemeal mini loaves I followed the recipe I use for easy white bread. I just changed the strong white flour for Allinson Wholemeal Seed & Grain Bread Flour. It’s delicious, I don’t think I will ever go back to baking with just white flour again!

Saturday evenings tend to be a mixture of wine and music while David often plays on GTA5 with his brother and cousin. At the moment I am reminiscing about playing Final Fantasy VII in the 90’s. The story was engaging, had a baddie that you love to hate (Sephiroth) and the music written by Nobuo Uematsu was out of this world too! You can listen to Final Symphony on Spotify, though I actually bought the mp3 from Amazon!

I shall sign off now and enjoy the last remaining light of day.

Goodnight!

© 2015 Christine Lucas

I’ve got the cooking bug again!!

Much to the consternation of my poor purse, as cooking can be both cheap and equally expensive!

This weekend I have been busy in the kitchen. With spring slowly ‘springing’ my desire to cook, (though not dampened by winter) has indeed ‘sprouted’ this past weekend, with that old eager feeling of excited anticipation gnawing at me.

On Saturday, and again on Sunday I was busy making ‘Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup.’ I had many of the ingredients left over hence why I made it again on the Sunday. The recipe says for 4 but I only seemed to make for 3, (depends on how many ladles you dole out!)
The ingredients were:

• 450g of carrots, peeled and chopped
• 2 small potatoes, or a large one (that I used), peeled and chopped
• 1 head/bulb of garlic
• 2 red onions, or a mix of one red and one white (it didn’t change the taste)
• 2-3 celery ribs
• ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper
• 0.7 to 1 litre of vegetable stock.
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Chives chopped to garnish

Method:

When I went to make this recipe I had not read the entire method properly. I thought it was just carrot and garlic soup, not roasted. So it took me longer, about 1 hour from start to finish.

• I peeled and cut the carrots, onions and potato
• Sliced the celery
• In a roasting dish, I put in the carrots, onions and celery with some oil, salt, pepper and the cayenne.
• I then chopped the top off the bulb/head of the garlic to expose the cloves, salt and peppered it and added a touch of oil. I wrapped the head/bulb in tin foil
• I put the roasting dish and wrapped up garlic in the oven 220°/gas mark 7 for 20-30 minutes
• While the vegetables were roasting, in a pan, I put two stock cubes in with 0.7lires of boiling water. I also added the chopped potato to the pan and seasoned it. Use 1 litre of stock to make enough for 4!
• Once the vegetables were roasted I added them, (the carrot, celery, onion) to the pan with the stock and potatoes.
• I then squeezed out the garlic and added that too the pan with the vegetables and stock. I then boiled the pan for 15 minutes or until the vegetables were soft.
• Then pop the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth.
• Warm-up again and serve with a sprinkling of chives or freshly made bread. It made a slightly hot soup, reduce the amount of cayenne if you don’t like heat!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup - First Attempt

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup – First Attempt

On Saturday I had bought some bread, but with more time on my hands on the Sunday, I decided to make a loaf of bread.

I always use the BBC Good Foods, recipe.

Easy White Bread

Ingredients:

• 500g of strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading and dusting.
• 2 tsp of salt
• 7g of yeast (fast action)
• 3 tbsp of oil (olive/sunflower/vegetable or your preference). I used sunflower
• 300ml of water. I have mine tepid.

Method:

• In a mixing bowl I measure out the dry ingredients. (I had trouble this Sunday as I only had 400g of strong bread flour, so had to add 100g of plain white flour!)
• I then add the oil and finally the water
• I add the water incrementally and get my hands in to mix the ingredients together
• Once the ingredients come together in some sort of dough, (today was moist; I’ve had others where more water was needed.) Then tip the dough onto a surface with some flour and begin kneading
• I have read recipes were they say knead to 15 to 20 minutes. I think I kneaded for more like 5-10.
• Once the bread has come nicely together and is silky smooth, put in a bowl and leave in a warm place. I left it besides a radiator and left to prove for one hour.
• After the hour, you will discover that the bread has doubled in size (due to carbon dioxide released by the yeast!)
• ‘Knock back’ (I just knead the dough) for 5- 10 minutes, this knocks the air out of the dough, and then return to somewhere warm. I place the dough into a bread tin at this stage and leave for another one hour! You can leave for longer.

Dough.. ready for the oven

Dough.. ready for the oven

• Once ready to put the dough in the oven, use a 200°/gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes. The aroma of cooked bread is glorious.
• Once cooked, tip the bread onto a rack to cool and then slice accordingly.

perfect bread

perfect bread

Warm bread served with hot cooked soup is delicious and comforting!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup with freshly made bread

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Soup with freshly made bread

On Friday, the beginning of the weekend, after a long week at work, I made some Slimming World Chocolate Brownies, which only had four ingredients.

• 6 eggs (separated.)
• 60g of cocoa powder
• 30g of sweetener. The recipe said 70g of sweetener and another I read said 150g! That is two whole jars! I reduced the sweetener, but with trial and error the right amount can be discerned.
• 1tbs of vanilla essence.

I decided to make these for David’s mother and mine as it was Mothering Sunday in the UK, 15th March 2015.

Method:

• Once all eggs were separated, I whisked the whites to soft fluffy peaks and then left to one side.
• I then added to the yolks, sweetener, vanilla essence and cocoa powder together, adding a touch of water if it went too dry.
• Afterwards, I folded in the fluffy egg whites into the chocolate mixture slowly, so as not to let the air out.
• Once mixed pour into a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook for 25-30 minutes on 180°/gas mark 4.
• I used a cocktail skewer to see if the brownies were cooked. Once clear I tipped onto a tray to cool.
• Once cool I cut into squares. I think it made around 25 brownies and the recipe says only ½ a syn each.

Here’s a link to a YouTube video showing how to make them!

I found the brownies were rather leathery but would be nice with some ice cream or cream, and maybe some fresh fruit. I am not the biggest chocolate fan and only made them for family. I hope they liked them?

So as you can see I have been productive in the kitchen. I look forward to making many more delicious dishes and sharing them with you!

Christine x