Glut busting…

It was only this year that I learned that you could eat the carrot greens – there’s a myth I had heard that they are poisonous, but apparently it is just that – a myth.

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I’ve had a lot of produce to eat lately, including these thinnings, so I made a simple chick pea salad, with diced carrots, halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped carrot greens and a rapeseed oil and lemon juice dressing. The twins and Dapper all wolfed it down – unfortunately before I had a chance to photograph it… so you’ll just have to try it yourself to see the end result!

I also made up a batch of these yellow squash crisps using a glut of patty pans, salt and black pepper, and without parmesan (as I had none in). These were also a massive hit! I recommend the recipe.

Posts on a theme – more gardening news!

I’m afraid the garden is more or less my life at the moment! Between the boys and the veggies I don’t have a lot of time for much else, and as I have commented to Dapper more than once, the garden is a little like children, in so far as she needs tending if you want her to thrive – even on the days you really don’t feel like it!

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This photo was taken before I lost all three tomtato plants to blight. Gutted, but it happens to the best of us!

In fact, in the week since I took this photo things have gone a little nuts up top. The marrows are now in full bloom and trailing above the pallet frame I put in for them to climb. The bags of potatoes you see to my right in the photo have been harvested and eaten hot with butter (I don’t remember planting reds, but there you go!) The canes to the my left are now half-high with dwarf beans, and behind these, my repurposed gate-framed bed is green with borage and marigold, turnip, beetroot, radish, chicory, lettuce and nasturtiums.

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The tomato hanging baskets and various patio veg are also doing spectacularly well – we’ve been eating red tumbling toms this week, with various other bush varieties on the vine yet to ripen. The alpine strawbs have been delicious from my hanging basket by the front door, and my first carrots are nearly ready to lift. And of course, we’ve been living on salad radish – and radish tops in salads too.

CIMG0034CIMG0080And I’ve just started preserving the produce. My elderflower gin is frankly delicious (I water mine down with lemon juice, and obviously tonic water) and following Monty’s advice last Friday, I cut back my chives to encourage a second crop, making a delicious chive and walnut pesto as a result!

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My next job is to get the two large beds in and the green manure underway ready for autumn planting for my winter veg plugs. I’ve inherited a pile of fence slats and telegraph poles for this, and have a pile of pallets on the way as well. These, I’m hoping, will provide planters for my saffron crocus, an early birthday gift from Grams, and due to arrive late August!

I’m really very excited about the whole thing – the idea of being so in control of what we’re all eating appeals to my inner control freak in rather marvellous ways!

And now I’m off to read James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution, to see what wonders I can add to my patch next year…

 

 

Oil and jelly

Do you know, it now takes me almost a week to write a single blog post? I started this on Monday, finished it on Tuesday, and it has taken until today to upload, edit and drop in the photos. How did I used to find time to write every single evening? Oh, I remember – it was BT — Before Twins!

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Sunday dawned bright and frosty last weekend, and the winter sunshine drew us out for a pre-lunch ramble. We wrapped the boys up in their snuggly snow suits, hats and mittens, and joined the world and his dog, it seemed, in making the most of the morning.

January is a notoriously poor month for foragers. The shelves of Mother Nature’s metaphorical larder are typically bare – the branches stripped of anything remotely edible by the birds and squirrels over previous months, and the rare splashes of colour usually signifying something deadly lurking in the hedgerows. But, being an addict, I couldn’t help but stuff a couple of freezer bags in my pocket – just in case.

And I’m so pleased I did! The proliferous bushes of sloes still lurking just beyond my reach outside the wee hoose had led me to suspect that our mild winter might have left us some gifts still to claim. And as we walked up the hill towards the canal bridge, I was delighted to spot a small handful of rosehips in the hedge. I took this as an indication, and left Dapper to manoeuvre the pushchair along the lanes whilst I cut our usual route across the fields – fields I have previously seen shine ruby red with hips and haws.

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The result was just over 1lb1/2 of juicy rosehips – and I left plenty behind for another lucky forager to find. And that marvellous sense of satisfaction all foragers feel when returning home carrying a freebie!

I returned home along our usual cross-field path, much of which had been turned into muddy bog by the recent rainfall. After nearly losing my welly once too often, I pressed a fallen branch into service as a makeshift staff, which made the going a little easier. Halfway across the third field I spotted these little beauties floating in the floods.

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Windfall apples! And so many of them! I smugly reached into my pocket for the second freezer bag only to find… No bag! It must have fallen out somewhere as I twisted and turned and bent to free my wellies from the mud! No forager can carry on in good conscience having littered the countryside with plastic, so I dutifully turned back and navigated back through the bog in search of my bag.

I found it, back at the road, more-or-less where I had found that first small cluster of hips. The journey back across the fields seemed somewhat shorter the second time around, and as the windfalls were all floating in the admittedly muddy water, they took mere moments to scoop into my bag. In next to no time I was home, with 4lbs of windfall apples in hand!

Those 4lbs of apples and 1lb1/2 of rosehips are now bottled up into 6 jars of apple and rosehip jelly and 500ml of rosehip oil, made in the slow cooker as per MIAMI’s instructions here. I have read that it is particularly good for treating nappy rash, so will be using it in place of lavender and tea tree next time I make up a batch of baby wipe solution. The jelly is delicious with cheese (excellent with brie, it seems) and would be lovely with meats too. It’s quite sweet, but very tasty! Next time I make it I might try adding some sliced chilli or strips of lemon zest to the strained juice, for a bit of added zing!

On a connected note, my big project for 2014 – aside from raising twins – is this:

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If all goes to plan this will soon become my vegetable patch! I have a compost bin chock full of lovely compost to use, once I’ve managed to clear the plot and set up some raised beds. The gardener is going to help me with that much at least. Wish me luck with the rest!

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Gratuitous baby shot to part on.

Weaning Ways

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As I said in my last post, if there is one thing I have learned from having twins it is just how different babies can be. Two babies, from the same parents, brought up in identical circumstances, my boys are so far apart in terms of development, personality and emotional needs, it surprises me daily. And mealtimes are no different – whilst Conall was desperate to self-feed, grabbing at the spoon and bowl from week 1, Hal is still content to sit back and let Mummy do the work to this day. Conall took to finger food quickly, whilst Hal was really only interested in squidging bits of banana between his fingers. Both boys like nothing more than to make as much mess as possible.

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Weaning twins is a massive job, and one with which I was willing to take any help I could get. My Dad and Step-Mum had bought me Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner before the boys were born, and I still use this regularly for reference, and for recipes. But there are many essentials without which I would really struggle – not only the store-cupboard stash of baby jars, but regular food stuffs and kitchen equipment that just make life that little simpler.

Here are my weaning baby must-haves:

Jelly moulds and leaf gelatine: I like to make my own jellies for puddings for two reasons: firstly, I can control the amount of sugar that goes in, and secondly, I can make them with pure fruit juice. I had no idea how easy it was to make your own jellies, but it’s every bit as simple as using jelly cubes – simply bring fruit juice to just below boiling point, add in four softened gelatine sheets for every pint of liquid, pour into moulds and refridgerate to set. The boys will eat pretty much any flavour, but a favourite is made with a tin of raspberries in juice: I strain the fruit and share between the moulds, then make the juice up to a pint with cranberry and raspberry juice. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar to taste (cranberry juice can be quite tart), and pour the jelly mix over the berries.

Semolina: I found that for my sons, what they ate during the day had a direct impact on how well and long they slept at night. This is not true of all babies, but it was of mine. I quickly realised that a portion of baby rice pudding after their evening meal added up to a decent night’s sleep for mummy and daddy. But to buy the pre-made baby rice in jars for every evening meal was proving expensive. As soon as my boys were on dairy, I began making an alternative to rice pudding, in the form of semolina. I’d mix up a batch with milk and sweeten with fruit puree (see below), portioning it up into tupperware for the next few nights. The twins love it!

Tinned fruit: I was buying fresh fruit and pureeing it up for the boys over summer, but as the nights began to draw in, so the price of fresh soft fruits began to sky-rocket. I often found that a punnet of peaches would go mouldy before they would ripen too – something of an annoyance. And then I saw a TV programme about food waste, which highlighted that tinned and frozen foods have gone out of fashion, despite being fresher, out of season, than their “fresh” brethren. I now stock the cupboard with tinned peaches, apricots and raspberries – as long as they are stored in juice and not in syrup, they’re fine by me! I blend a tin every few days and store in the fridge to add to semolina and…

Ready Brek: Courtesy of Annabel Karmel. My boys were getting through a box of baby porridge every two days – which, at £2.10+ a box quickly adds up! As soon as they were old enough to be introduced to gluten I began to mix their baby porridge in with Ready Brek, increasing the quantity week by week. They now have about a third baby porridge to 2/3 Ready Brek, and it goes a lot further. As many of the baby porridges are flavoured, I sweeten this with a slug of fruit puree (see above).

Frozen veg: peas and sweetcorn, fresh from the freezer, are great to throw into dishes for baby (once they’re old enough to process the husks) and packed full of goodness! See “Philly” below for a recipe using frozen or tinned sweetcorn that the twins just wolf down.

Lentils: Great for stodgifying root veg dishes, my lads love lentils in their dinner. I cook mine in the bottom of a three tier steamer, with chopped carrot and sweet potato above, then blend with the veg, a tin of tomatoes and a tablespoon of yoghurt, a very little cumin and turmeric, and chunks of pineapple to make a very gentle dahl. Always a hit at dinnertime!

Avocados: A godsend when I’ve run out of lunches, we started on avocados mashed with bananas when the lads were still eating mostly fruit and veg. I now blend with a pot of baby fruit from the cupboard in an emergency, with cottage cheese and pineapple from the fridge, or for a real favourite, with either poached chicken and basil leaves or poached salmon and dill.

Bananas: as above, an real emergency staple. Mash one with yoghurt or rice pudding to make a filling finale to a meal.

Cottage cheese & Philly: Cottage cheese, especially with pineapple, was a surprising hit with the boys from the moment they could eat dairy and forms the base to many of their lunches. Philly (other cream cheeses are available…) is fantastic for mixing with tiny pasta shapes and tomato, or in the boys’ favourite dinner, with poached and pureed chicken, sweetcorn and pasta bits. They can’t get enough of it!

Natural Yoghurt: Babies need the full fat version of dairy, and I find the market leading brand of fromage frais somewhat overpoweringly flavoured. I tend to mix Greek style natural yoghurt with fresh fruit, fruit puree or smushed up jelly instead for an alternative dessert. Also good for watering down/creamy-ing up savoury dishes.

Silicone muffin moulds: ice cube trays are too small for babies beyond a couple of months into weaning. Silicone muffin moulds are great for freezing patties of pureed chicken or fish, mixed veg and herbs – anything you’d like to make in a batch and divide up into portions before freezing, really! Freeze in the muffin moulds overnight, then bag up in labelled freezer bags. I mix and match to make up a meal – a patty of chicken with a patty of mashed carrot and sweet potato and perhaps an ice cube of herbs or baby stock, popped in a Tupperware dish in the fridge overnight to defrost…

Wand blender: I could use my lovely fancy Kenwood every time I needed to blend something, but it is time consuming both in terms of set-up and washing-up. My stick blender was £4.99 from Tesco, and has been used AT LEAST twice a day for 5 months solid now. If it breaks next week I will feel confident I’ve had my money’s worth! My Kenwood is great for Sunday afternoon batch cooking sessions when I’m stocking up the freezer.

And a non-necessity that I just love…
My Squeeze Station: I bought this from the Jojo Maman Bebe outlet and I adore how organised it lets me be. I fill the pouches with pre-mixed meals and label with my sharpie, then store in the freezer until needed. Before my working week begins, I can pull out a few meals and write on them exactly what and when they are for: “MONDAY – LUNCH”, for example. It takes the guess work out for me and my Mum/Mother-In-Law when they’re looking after the boys. It wasn’t especially cheap – I got mine for £15 in the sale, and an additional 50 pouches for £13, but then with a voucher code for another 15% off, so about £25 for the whole system plus extra pouches… but it has been worth it for the sense of control it has allowed me. Trust me, when you’re a twin-mummy, anything that allows you the semblance of control is a real luxury!

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Apple mad

We’ve had something of a bumper crop of apples this year, and whilst a lot are wrapped in newspaper and boxed up in one of the outbuildings, and more still are sliced and frozen in one of the outdoor chest freezers up at the hall, I had several pounds that needed using up as soon as possible. Somehow, between working, ebaying, crafting for two forthcoming fairs and looking after twins, I managed to make up four different apple-based preserves over the last week!

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I made up another batch of the cardamom apple jam I made with our last bumper crop – as it proved very popular with various family members. I also tried two different chutney recipes, to see which will turn out tastier. And, I attempted a twist on the ever popular chill jam recipe, replacing the usual kilo of tomatoes with a kilo of grated apples instead. It is slightly spicier than usual, but still good I think… Just might need a spot more sugar and orange juice, and perhaps another 500g of apple next time I try!

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We went to a simply wonderful wedding at the weekend (congratulations to the lovely Mikey and his beautiful wife, Jen!) yet somehow failed to find the time to take any outfit shots! So, I’ve stolen a couple from facebook (courtesy of the lovely Erin) to give you an indication of what I wore – it’s really my only dressy dress that fits just now, so no doubt it’ll make another appearance during the party season…

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With the gorgeous Nat & Laura

It was so great to get together with so many of our university friends once again – I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard or danced so long! We left the boys with Nanny and enjoyed an uninterrupted night of sleep – not to mention a truly indulgent afternoon nap – I swear Dapper came back looking ten years younger! I came back, unfortunately, with a stinking cold, so am dosed up on lemsip this week. The joys of reacquainting oneself with the outside world after months of hibernation – my immune system doesn’t know what’s hit it!

Bad blogger

I am one, I know it. But I’m knee deep in conference presentation prep, as well as being thigh-deep in summer fete makes – and really struggling to keep up! These are some of my makes:

These were made up to ensure I had plenty of stock for the Highlare School summer fair this weekend, which you can read more about on Down the Garden Path. Of course, a summer fair offers opportunity to dress up:

Dress: vintage via charity shop; shoes: Ness; cardi: handmade

The rest of my weekend comprised of more sewing, breadmaking (our first attempt) and generally messing about in the grounds with Dapper and the dogs, catching the sunshine between showers!


Wild Green Soup

On Saturday we went for another morning hike, and this time I took carrier bags with me for foraging fun. I brought back a couple of bags of ingredients, one bag full of apple mint found on the verges of wasteland, and one full of wild greens, which I made into a surprisingly delicious soup, one which I would readily serve at a dinner party, it was so incredibly moreish!

Foraging tips

I’m really new to this foraging malarky, but I have found reading around the subject an absolute necessity. The most useful book in my collection has been Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Forager – with colour photographs and anecdotal deescriptions making plants far easier to recognise than your standard illustrated, botanical texts. I took my digital camera out with me as always, and came back with photos of various plants. I then pulled out our various reference books to check what I’d found – it’s imperative that you are picking what you think you are, as so many edible plants seem to have a near-identical poisonous twin!

For example, I *think* these are Jews Ear funghi…

…but would never dare eat them (or any foraged funghi) as I can’t be sure…

Besides a decent knowledge of what you’re picking, common sense seems the most important factor in foraging for food. I avoid picking anything from the roadside, as I would rather avoid potential pollution. I won’t eat watercress, no matter how lush it looks in the burn outside our house, as it picks up any pollutants in the water, and you can never tell what’s in the soils that water has run through – or what has been discarded into the water further upstream! And I avoid anything from below waist level along the tow paths, where dogs have regularly marked territory – and worse!

Wild Green Soup

Wild rocket? Or could it be ragwort or groundsel – neither of which you really want to be eating…

As with all foraged recipes, the quantities and leaves used must be variable according to what you can lay hands on. I was also limited to using what I had in the fridge when I got home – which on this occasion just happened to work spectacularly well!

  • Knob of butter – I used some of the wild garlic butter I mixed up after last week’s forage
  • 2 sticks of celery, diced
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 carrier bag of foraged leaves – I used largely nettles – largely dead nettles – topped up with wild garlic leaves and flowers, Jack-by-the-hedge leaves and flowers, cleavers, a few dandelion leaves and a handful of slightly past its best spinach from the fridge to put it to use!
  • 1 litre veg stock – I use bouillon
  •  1 small tin sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp cheap honey
  • 1 small tub single cream

Before you start you’ll need to sort and wash your greens. I removed the leaves and flowers from the tough stems, rinsed under cold water, and spread on a tea towel to dry. Larger leaves I washed individually, smaller leaves and flowers, in a colander. Make sure to discard any nibbled leaves or those with insect eggs on the underside.

Begin by frying off the onion and celery in the garlic butter. If you don’t have garlic butter, add garlic once the onions and celery have softened. Do not brown, just gently soften down in their own juices.

Add the diced potatoes and soften for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock, then all the greens, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes (or until the potatoes break apart).

Remove from the heat, and stir in your small tin of sweetcorn (drained). Blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches.) Return to the pan.

This is the point where tasting really comes into it. Stir in the cream over a low heat, season, then taste. The sweetcorn should temper the bitterness of the greens, but if it is not enough, try adding a teaspoon of cheap, runny honey. It won’t flavour the soup, but will lift and intensify the sweetcorn. Black pepper can really lift the flavours. You might also like to add a grating of nutmeg – nutmeg and greens LOVE one other!

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I also collected a considerable amount of apple mint, as mentioned above. This I divided into three piles. One pile I washed on the stalk, bunched together in groups of 3 stems with an elastic band, and hung up to dry.

With the two remaining piles, I removed the leaves from the stems and washed individually, then patted dry with the tea towel. Half were placed in an airtight box in the fridge, the other half in an old take-away tub in the freezer, for crumbling into recipes later in the year. The fresh leaves make a delicious mint tea, which makes me wonder why anyone would buy mint tea in bags at this time of year!