Tuesday, 30 April 2013

I succumbed to temptation...

I love craft magazines. As a teenager I would read "Prima" from cover to cover, while other girls my age were giggling away at "Just 17" or eyeing up the stars in "Smash Hits". As an adult I usually avoid that aisle in the supermarket, telling myself that I can get all the inspiration I need online, and there is no need to pay out for a glossy magazine, no matter how beautiful it looks, or how useful the free gifts.

However, this weekend I overrode my conscience. I bought "Homemaker", a new-ish magazine which seems a little lighter on advertising than most magazines, and a little heavier on interesting articles and useful projects.

When I do buy a magazine, I like to make sure that I get my money's worth out of it. So as soon as I got it home I started on a birthday card for a good friend.

I belong to the "less is more" school of card-making; I don't tend to go in for too many ribbons or embellishments. The templates for these sweet little birds came free with the magazine and were supposed to be used to make a mobile. They are available to download here.

While I was in a creative mood, I decided to start an applique project. This is my first attempt at applique, but I found a useful tutorial here. No prizes for guessing what this is going to be!

The pin cushion is the one I have had since starting needlework at school back in the days when it was called "needlework" and not "textiles". I think I might possibly need to start yet another project to replace it!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Almost veggie cottage pie

For this week's vegetarian meal I decided to experiment with soya mince.  Cottage pie is a family favourite, so I wanted to see if I could manage a meat-free version. I found the soya mince in the frozen aisle of the supermarket, along with Quorn mince. Unfortunately Quorn doesn't like DD, so that isn't an option for us.

I expect there are as many ways of producing cottage pie as there are people who cook it, but I chop and soften whatever veg is starting to look dodgy, brown off the mince, throw in the veg with a little flour, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a stock cube, a tin of kidney beans and enough water so it doesn't stick. I then leave it to simmer for at least half an hour before topping it with cheesy mash and cooking in the oven for twenty minutes or so. 

Rather bizarrely, all you need to do to cook soya mince is to fry it from frozen for eight minutes in a little oil. Apart from using vegetable stock powder rather than my usual beef Oxo cube, I didn't do anything different to normal. All was going well until I decided that the "meat" was a little bland. Inspiration struck! Add Worcestershire sauce! (For those who are baffled, Worcestershire sauce is a strongly flavoured British sauce used to flavour meat, or scrambled eggs if you are me.) Unfortunately, it wasn't until the deed had been done that I checked the label and found anchovies listed. Who knew? Well, not me obviously.

The pie was well received by my family; DH thought it was meat until I enlightened him. However, I am not sure what I think about eating soya. I know there is some debate about the environmental impact of soya bean farming. I am not competent to judge whether it is worse than the impact of farming methane-producing beef cattle. The original point of eating more vegetarian food was to avoid processed meat, and there does appear to be a lot of processing going into soya mince. I am also trying to teach my children to appreciate vegetables and pulses and try different foods. So, on balance, I don't think I will be using soya mince again.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Something strange is lurking in the vegetable patch...

Last year DH planted two rhubarb crowns in our small vegetable plot. I had visions of rhubarb crumble with custard. Of course, we only had a few stems from them last year, just a taste of what is to come. They were cossetted through the winter with a straw mulch and, sure enough, started to burgeon with the onset of spring.

But now one of them is harbouring a strange growth...

I had no idea that rhubarb flowered! Well, I suppose I knew it must produce seeds some how, but I've never seen one do it. It is a very strange sort of flower, looking more like a romanesco cauliflower than anything else.

As a newbie rhubarb producer, I am a little baffled. What do I do with it? Do I cut it off so the plant can concentrate on producing stems? Do I leave it? Do any more green-fingered bloggers have any advice?

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ashdown Forest

We are very lucky to live within a short drive of Ashdown Forest. "Forest" is actually a bit of a misnomer as it is a large area of open heathland with the occasional group of trees! It is the largest area of free public access countryside in the South East. It is full of wide open spaces fabulous for ball games, chucking around a frisbee or walking off Sunday lunch. It is also famous for being the setting for AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories. You can play Pooh sticks from Pooh Sticks Bridge but you have to take your own sticks!

I was brought up in South London, which is not well known for it's fresh air and open spaces, so every so often my parents would pack a picnic, shovel us into the car and drive us down to the Forest. History repeats itself and we now do the same to our kids.

The views are stunning, especially on a clear day like today.

I have a bit of a thing for bare trees; the way they twist and bend their way skywards. Today, however, some of them had a little spattering of green; a sign of the possibility of summer.

There was more than a spattering of yellow, as the gorse was in flower.

Lovely wide open skies, with delicate tracings of clouds.

We only walked a couple of miles today. We ambled along, kicking a ball as we went and stopping frequently to admire the view. We heard a cuckoo call and watched a kestrel circle. The children ran about four times the distance that their more staid parents walked. After our huge exertions (!) we needed sustenance so we stopped at the aptly named Heaven Farm for a cup of tea. We like it there as it is cheap and very family friendly. Chickens and ducks wander between the picnic tables and there are tractors to climb on that DS cannot resist. Today there was a new resident.

This turkey looked like he'd escaped from the set of Doctor Who. He seemed to be very keen on DS, or at least on his ice cream. Fortunately DS managed to resist his beady glint, and hold on to his bounty.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Root vegetable pie

I realise that this blog has become very food-centred lately. Maybe it's because cooking is such a large part of my life. I try to cook from scratch for four hungry people every day so it's just as well that I like it! I'm not so fond of the washing up.

I am particularly enjoying discovering different vegetarian recipes. Having played with pulses for the last few weeks I decided on a root vegetable pie this week. 

The recipe is available on the Riverford Organic Farms website. It is a good example of why you should read a recipe before starting it, as the pie needs to rest before you put it in the oven and then it cooks for an hour! Tea was a little late that day. I was a little wary of how it would go down, but it was surprisingly tasty. Apparently all it needs is gravy. Sigh. Despite the vegetable content it is not a very healthy meal due to all the puff pastry, but it is pretty cheap, especially if you are very good and make your own pastry. I didn't. One day I will, but today is not that day.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bread pudding

What do you do when you find large loaves of bread reduced to 35p in the supermarket? Fill your freezer and make bread pudding of course!

I used a Delia Smith recipe, but there is a very similar recipe on the BBC Good Food website. I used value mixed fruit, which has candied peel mixed in, so I didn't add any extra peel.

It's not the most elegant of desserts, but it tastes wonderful. We had it with custard for pudding. It should probably come with a health warning given the amount of calories, but I only had a small slice. Honest.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A trip to the seaside

Today was the first day of the year in our patch where it has actually felt warm and spring-like. We took full advantage of the unaccustomed sunshine and headed straight off after church to one of our favourite places, Goring-by-Sea on the south coast. DH and I were both born by the sea and need frequent trips to top up the brine in our veins! 

It was a different sort of day to our last visit in September. Then the tide was out and you could paddle for miles. This time the tide was right in, and the waves were very impressive. The children whooped with delight as they raced in and out of the waves. Sometimes the waves won the race.


Goring residents are very particular about their beach huts. They stand in a rank; uniform and white.

We walked past all of them on our way to Worthing, the next town along. Worthing promenade has quite an Edwardian feel to it. They do a nice style of lamp post!

We don't know Worthing at all, and have promised ourselves a visit. By the time we had walked back again we felt that we had earned our first ice-cream of the season.

DS enjoyed his. Unfortunately I dropped mine! Still, my waistline won't suffer! It was a lovely day just to sit on the beach and watch the sea. DH won the "Who can build the tallest tower competition?".

It was a great afternoon, and a lovely end to the Easter holidays.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Lentil burgers

I've been keeping up with my aim of cooking one vegetarian meal a week; in fact this week I extended to two! For the last two weeks I have made lentil burgers from a recipe by Frugal in Derbyshire, kindly pointed out to me by Shara at Mama's Mission II. The beauty of these is that you can add your own flavours, so last week we had spicy cumin and coriander and this week we had paprika and parsley (alliteration unintentional!). 

It is quite a simple recipe. Last week I thought that the mixture was very wet, and ended up squeezing the patties to get rid of the excess. It wasn't until long after they had been eaten that I realised that I hadn't added the oats! Doh! This week's batch were much more successful. I served them with (shop-bought) rolls and home made potato wedges.

The other vegetarian meal this week was a Greek salad with halloumi cheese from this Sophie Grigson book which I borrowed from the library:

Image from mykitchentable.co.uk
There are some lovely recipes in here. Some of them are printed on the "My Kitchen Table" website, although unfortunately not the whole book! I suspect the library may want it back at some point so I may have to find my own copy. The Greek salad tasted great. It used quails' eggs, which are not cheap and incredibly fiddly. I bought them this time as I wasn't shelling out for any meat, but next time I will just use hens' eggs. DD, my vegetable-avoider, had sensibly gone out to a friend's for tea when I made this, but I will definitely be doing it again so it will be interesting to see her reaction.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

40 acts: Round up

Back in February I signed up for the 40 acts Lent challenge. This involved daily activities to encourage me to live a more generous life. It seemed like a brilliant idea, and for the first few weeks it went really well. Every morning I logged on to the website and considered the daily challenge. Was it something I could do that day or did it need more thought? 

Some of the activities were part of my daily life anyway. I have frequent no car days, I regularly buy Fairtrade and I try and build some creativity into my daily life. On those days I would close the computer with a smug expression. Other days, however, were much harder. "Organise a social event and invite a new person?" Social events? It is much as I can do to stay awake after 8pm! "Plant a tree"? Pardon? On which ground? Unfortunately the number of unconquered challenges grew too high and for the last few weeks of Lent I guiltily avoided the website.

However I have now gone back and read through the challenges again, and there are some which I will be doing, but at my own pace:
  • Clear out my wardrobe. I badly need to do this! There is a good article on how to get started here.
  • Say no to plastic. I already use reusable plastic "bags for life", but it turns out that "life" is about 5 years, and my bags are disintegrating. Rather than buying replacements I am thinking about making my own with my very basic sewing machine skills. It can't be that hard!
  • Donate blood. They actually use my church for this, so I have no excuse whatsoever. Must get onto it.
  • Live on a fiver a day. Actually, to do this properly I would need to do it for at least a week, and include the rest of the family, so this will need some discussion and negotiation. This may require yet more thought...
So all in all it was a worthwhile experience, and it did make me think more about my faith and the way I live in society.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Fenland parcel

The postman often knocks at our door, as DH works from home and has a fair few deliveries, but today the parcel was for me! Morgan at "Growing in the Fens" has just reached 100,000 page views and held a giveaway to celebrate. (100,000! I am in awe!) I was fortunate enough to win!

The first thing I unearthed was this beautiful ball of wool. It is a lovely heather and green mix. Morgan also included the pattern she uses for hats which go into Operation Christmas Child boxes. My church also supports OCC, so I will knit a few up myself, just as soon as I've finished DD's cushion cover. (I'm about half way through now, and speeding up slightly as I get the hang of rippling.)

This cute little notebook is excellent timing. Being of a forgetful nature, I carry a notebook around in my handbook, and my current one is just about full up. As, presumably, is my brain!

These will be great for when we travel. 

I have read a few Philippa Gregory books, and normally find that I can't put them down, so I am looking forward to reading this one! I will probably save it for a holiday, or else nothing else will get done!

So, thank you very much Morgan for the lovely parcel. Thank you too for an excellent and useful blog, which I personally find very inspiring. Here's to your next 100,000 page views!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Raspberry and White Chocolate Muffins

A few weeks ago T*sco were kind enough to give me a free white chocolate Easter egg, presumably in recognition of the fact that I spend far too much time and money there. This morning they were also generous to discount some raspberries. So what could I do except bake some muffins? This is based on a recipe given to me by a good friend a fair few years ago.


9oz/255g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
4oz/110g granulated sugar
1 egg
8 fl oz/240ml milk
3 fl oz/90ml vegetable oil
2.5oz/65g white chocolate (or 1 small Easter egg!)
4.4oz/125g raspberries


1. Grease or put muffin cases into a 12-hole muffin tin.

2. Chop the chocolate into small chunks.

3. Sift the sugar, flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl.

4. Beat the egg in a different bowl, and mix in the milk and oil.

5. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix gently. The strange thing about muffins is that the batter is supposed to be lumpy; as soon as you can't see any dry flour you are done. Mix in the raspberries and chocolate with the last few stirs.

6. Fill the muffin cups so they are three-quarters full and bake at Gas Mark 5/190 C/375 F for about 25 minutes. They are done when the tops spring back when pressed lightly.

These are lovely when eaten while still warm from the oven, although they will keep for a few days in an airtight container. This is never an issue in our house...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

"At home" days

Although we enjoy getting out and about, the children and I are quite happy to spend time pottering around at home. The last few days have definitely been stay-at-home, happy, creating days.

DD has been working hard on her Baden-Powell badge at Guides. I never even graduated from Brownies, so I am amazed at the amount of work that she has put into it. For one of her challenges she has decided to organize a birthday party for a friend's small daughter.

Every party needs bunting!

Pin the wand on the fairy, anyone? DD's general creativity infected the rest of us.

You are never too old for a rubber duck, so DS decided to paint his own.

Of course we had to do some baking. DS made a chocolate cake with very little help from me, and DD produced the icing. This bodes well for the future!

DS has two obsessions in life; scooters and film-making, so he combined the two to produce a stop-frame animation. Watch out, Nick Park!

And me? Well, not at all coincidentally with the advent of "The Great British Sewing Bee", I finally got out my Mother-in-Law's sewing machine. It has been lurking in the corner of my bedroom for 15 months, instilling fear and guilt in equal measure. I have been meaning to conquer it since I spent hours sewing a waistcoat for DS last year, and today was the day I faced my fear. It took an hour or two, a broken needle and a fair bit of huffing and puffing, but I did get it threaded and producing something resembling a line of stitching.

Yay! So what to do now? I need a few more "at home" days for inspiration to strike!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


We were surprised by good weather on Easter Monday. It has been cold and wintry for so long that we'd given up looking at the forecast, convinced that the White Queen had come to Britain once she'd been kicked out of Narnia! Even DD, who occasionally takes a little persuading, was happy to venture out for a Proper Walk. We settled on Standen, which is one of four National Trust properties within a short drive of home. I am not quite sure what the attraction of Sussex is, but 19th Century landscape gardeners seemed to love it!

Standen is a Victorian family country house, which was designed by an architect friend of William Morris, a leading light in the Arts and Crafts movement. It isn't as grand as a lot of NT properties and feels a lot friendlier. My camera was playing up, so I didn't get any pictures of the house, but I did manage a few in the garden.

We really enjoyed our walk; there were definite signs of Spring!

I'm not sure what this flower is, but it is very beautiful.


This, of course, is the current owner of the garden!

This bench is very clever. Made from stones and covered in metal, it is designed to retain warmth. It really works; it was pleasantly warm to sit on even though the air temperature was cold.

It was a lovely respite from a bitterly cold few weeks. (For England, I know there are much hardier souls than me out there!) When summer does come, we shall really appreciate it, and there shall be lots more Proper Walks!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Carrot and Coriander Falafels

Having started my quest to introduce vegetarian food into our diet, last week I attempted falafels. I have never eaten these before, and I don't even know how to say it! But feeling smug after my successful lentil curry I decided to have a go. I used a recipe from "A Girl Called Jack" which I have only just discovered. It is a brilliant blog which is a fascinating mixture of social action and recipes. Until recently Jack only had £10 a week to feed herself and her son, so her blog is full of seriously frugal recipes. These falafels work out at around 23p per portion.

The recipe was easy to follow, although my arms had a good workout with all the mashing of chickpeas. Next time I might just get out the food processor! The mixture didn't quite come together - in retrospect I should have added an egg to bind it. However, the falafels were very tasty and we had clear plates all round.

I am loving experimenting with vegetarian ingredients, and trying out lots of new flavours. I am sure it has to be doing us some good!