Eat Your Greens!

Basket butternut squash    Close up Butternut squash

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while you’ll know I like using Green Cleaning methods. However, I often think I could do a bit more; be a bit greener; change a few more aspects of my life to Do My Bit without scaring the family too much! One other area that I’ve managed to include into Family Life is Meatless Mondays. It’s a simple concept with two main arguments that we can all relate to; better health and less pressure on the environment. Eating meat supports an industry that uses huge amounts of fossil fuels which are attributed to an accelerated climate change throughout the world. Massive amounts of water are required for livestock ; so much more required than for watering veg and grains. Health concerns over a meat heavy diet include various cancers, heart disease and diabetes. I’m not into scare-mongering and I am certainly not saying cut out all meat in your diet but I do agree that, on this issue, the world is spiralling out of control and will be unable to sustain the amount of meat eaters in the future.  Just one vege meal a week is a very easy way of including more veges and pulses and to shake up the menu a bit. Change is Good! You might surprise yourself! You might even find yourself including more than one vege meal per week. I recently bought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg book. It contains some really tasty dishes that I’ve used on my family with great success. One of his points is very succinct and says it all, “ Just ask yourself if you, or anyone you know, might be in danger of eating too many vegetables…” Well, Quite and Very Well Put Hugh. Veges are virtuous and vitamin packed and voluptuous. They are your friends so eat a few more! Here’s one of our favourite family vege recipes from Veg….

Recipe

North African Squash and Chickpea stew

2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 large onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 teaspoon frehly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
100g red lentils
400g tin chick peas, drained and rinsed
8 saffron strands, toasted and crushed (I didn’t include this when I made it)
500ml roasted tomato sauce or passata (homemade or shop bought)
A good handful of parsley, chopped
A large bunch coriander, chopped
300g pumpkin or squash
1.2 litres vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
50g vermicelli, orzo pr other small pasta
Dates to serve (optional)

Saute the onions in the oil until golden. Turn the heat down low and add garlic and spices and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the lentils, chickpeas, tomato sauce or passata, parsley and coriander and cook over a gently heat for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and deseed the squash or pumpkin and cut into large cubes. Add to the pan with the stock and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the pasta and simmer until cooked. Season with salt and pepper. I sometimes wilt some spinach or pak choi at the very end just to add a bit of greenery!

Serve with a scattering of coriander and a few dates on the side if you like.

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Magical, Minty Cleaner

Ingredients

I’m not the biggest fan of cleaning my house. I don’t enjoy the endless cycle of removing dirt and dust from the same surfaces week in week out. I certainly don’t get a glow of pleasure at my shiny floors after a strenuous workout with the steam mop or my gleaming windows after a vigorous rub down. However, recently, something has given me a little glow on the cleaning front; just a little glow but a glow none the less. My latest green cleaner is a little gem; a peppermint gem of a cleaner and I love it. I got the recipe from Wendyl Nissen and after reading the comments on her web site I felt compelled to make it for myself. It’s another oh-so-simple recipe; so simple in fact that you’ll wonder if it really works;  it really does….

You only need :
1 cup Baking soda
1 Tablespoon Cream of tartar
10ml Liquid Castille soap
Enough water to make into a paste

Simply add the powders to a container with an air tight lid then add the soap and peppermint essence. Mix together and start adding a little water to make a paste consistency.

Before

It’s such a pleasure to make this because of the minty smell and the consistency is light as air and all whippy, fluffiness. It reminds me of making peppermint fondants yum! Apparently this mixture expands and fizzes and, while it didn’t react like that for me, I feel I ought to warn you in case! To be safe leave the lid off the container for a few hours to allow for expansion. I use this as a bathroom cleaner but feel free to use in the kitchen too (great for ovens as there’s no toxic residue). Here it is in all it’s fluffy, pepperminty glory!

After

You will probably find yourself cleaning lots of things after making this (can’t guarantee this enthusiasm will last forever!). You will ooh and ahh over the pleasant smell and be mildly amazed at how little of the mix you need to make your taps sparkle. You may try it on that annoying stain on the carpet “just to see”. You may even tell a friend about this cleaning product. Whatever you do, enjoy the moment safe in the knowledge that you have reduced the chemical load in your house and instead enveloped it in minty loveliness!

A Little Light planning

Kings seed Catalogue

It’s still raining here and the puddles are getting bigger and deeper and more pond like in the paddock. The sheep are very happy mooching around and the cheeky little Pukekoes are just adoring this inclement weather. They love splashing around in puddles on their awkward red legs; such a geeky, gawky bird!

I forgot to mention in my last post that there is something other than Sorting and Trying Something New that I like to do when it’s rainy; I like Planning. Nothing pleases me more than a little Light Planning aka Dreaming. I always have a notebook of some description ready to be filled with my thoughts and wonderings. Here is my latest one:

Notebook Inside Note Book

Not what you were expecting? It’s a little Retro isn’t it?! It’s been upcycled from an old recipe book; old pages have been included throughout the book amongst the new pages. My hubbie, Mr Fig, bought it for me as I have a bit of a thing about herbs. My Planning today is all about Spring!

Planning

I have lots of new ideas for my garden this Spring. I was delighted to receive my new copy of the latest Kings Seeds catalogue; I’ve clocked up a sizeable list of seeds to buy already. I find that I go through phases with flowers; especially certain colours. For the last two years I’ve gone mad for lime green and orange; pairing Zinnia Giant Lime with orange crepe poppies and calendulas with Bells of Ireland. I noticed after browsing through this catalogue that spiky purple flowers were On My Mind. We have a circular bed in the middle of our drive; the Roundabout Bed (or the drives-me-round-the-bend bed). It’s a bit of a conundrum for me so I’ve been very slowly (4 years worth of slowly) taking out plants and paring it back to a bare canvas. I found quite a few limestone rocks hiding under the agapanthas and Mr Fig very kindly went off with the trailer to procure a few more to edge part of the roundabout bed. What a difference! I don’t have Before and after photos but the purple spiky plants are the next addition to reinvent this bed so I will be photographing my progress from now on. Here are my purple spiky contenders….

I’m particularly taken with the Agastache since it has a lovely minty scent which I will benefit from every time I amble through the trying-hard-to-be-a-bluebell-wood path to feed the chickens. I also love the thought of anise with it’s culinary possibilities (great in fruit salads and teas). Decisions, decisions…. Here are a few more of my flower choices for 2013 including the Snail Vine that I can envisage scrambling over the back gate and arch of the vege garden wafting it’s gorgeous scent all over the veges! I love a bit of wafting! There’ll be a bit more scrambling action with Peach Melba Nasturtiums too; who can resist that yummy pudding name?

I have lots and lots of herbs but I still can’t resist adding to my herb beds with Alchemilla mollis. I was inspired by the wonderful blog Life in Mud Spattered Boots to plant Alchemilla molis with Globe artichokes and feverfew; just gorgeous.

Alchemilla Molis

These herbs look a bit interesting too…..

I grow so many veges from seed that it’s a bit overwhelming to picture them all. Therefore I’m going to show you my Ones To watch for 2013. These are ones that I haven’t grown before and am therefore not just a little but excited about! Gobstopper size carrots, mini white cucumbers and strawberry spinach. Yes spinach pickled with tiny little strawberries; both cucumbers and strawberry spinach will be perfect for my Pimm’s Bed.

Mmmm I can see it all now; a riot of colour and scent. Will be interesting to see just how my Planning turns out in Practice!!

What to do on a Rainy Day….Make Paneer Cheese

It’s been raining quite a lot here recently; cats and dogs in fact. There’s something about a rainy day that brings out the adventurous side in me; or the reckless side. You’ll often find me disembowling the craft cupboard trying to restore order amongst the glittery and the colourful or cleaning out the vacuum cleaner filters. Cobwebs get swept away from the darkest corners and books get arranged and rearranged on the shelves. These jobs don’t often get a look in so rain is a Good Thing sometimes.

I’m not in a Sorting Mood today though. I’m in a Try Something New mood and the New Thing I’m going to try is making cheese. I’m going to a Celebrate All Things British Fete this Saturday (which is probably why it’s raining; at least it will be authentic). Afterwards I’m inviting some friends round and I’m cooking the UK’s National Dish aka curry! The Paneer cheese is part of my curry feast. It’s going to be fried and added to peas and spices and things. I got the recipe for Paneer cheese from Jamie Oliver (not personally you understand; from one of his cookbooks). It’s not even really a recipe it’s so simple. Have a go!

You only need two ingredients; full fat milk and white wine vinegar.

Take just two ingredients

Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil. You will probably find yourself watching the milk, looking out for traces of bubbles; you may also be tempted to put on a lid to speed things up. If you go with the lid option be prepared to whip the saucepan away from the heat at the first sign of boiling otherwise the milk will erupt from the saucepan like Mount Ruapehu and you will be Very Cross because cleaning up burnt milk is not very enjoyable. You may also burn a tea towel (you may not; just warning you) Exercise Caution and Patience!

Milk

Remove milk from heat and add a wine glass full of white wine vinegar. In a trice you will see some curdling-action appear before your very eyes. It’s at this point you may contemplate the wonders of science or the universe or even both.

Curdled

Wait five minutes and pour the whole lot into a fine sieve or a colander lined with muslin to remove the watery whey.

Curd in muslin

Wait for the curd to cool a bit and then squeeze out any excess whey.

Drain Whey

Hey Presto! Here is the cheese! I feel as if I’ve done something pretty momentous!

Finished Paneer

It’s worth noting that you can’t do much with whey if you’ve made a cheese using acid. Sweet whey can be used to make ricotta but acid whey is really only good for chickens or your compost heap.

Speedy Suppers

Recipe Books

I read somewhere that the average person has about 10 recipes in their repertoire. An old article in The Daily Mail lists the 9 most commonly made dishes (read it here) including, spaghetti bolognese, roast dinner, shepherd’s pie, pasta dish, meat and two veg, pizza, casserole/stew, sausages and chips and curry. Nothing wrong with those meals at all and I cook most of them too but I have to admit I get very bored with cooking the same meals over and over again. So, how to spice up the menu without spending even more time in the kitchen?

Cookery Books are a great source of inspiration for me. I have far too many (so many more than the average eight; in fact I think I may have a bit of an addiction). I now borrow cookery books from the library which has the added benefits of keeping my bookshelves clearer and being much cheaper! I love buying into the whole spirit of a cookbook; Nigella’s Express, for example, had me conjuring up images of myself waltzing into the kitchen and whipping up a meal in minutes from my well stocked larder (I don’t actually have a larder but in my head that didn’t seem to matter). Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook had me imagining bringing in huge baskets of veg from the garden and transforming them into bagna cauda or radish top pasta. You get the drift; I’m a bit of a dreamer.

Meal Planner

In reality I’ve been the primary maker of Family Meals for over 9 years now. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s to Keep Things Simple and Plan Ahead. I Keep Things Simple by keeping a handwritten book of some very easy, tasty dishes that really can be whipped up in half an hour and use just the one saucepan, oven dish or frying pan. You can see my book in the photo above with Jamie Oliver on the front. I’m just about to finish it so will have to get another one (yay – any excuse to buy some stationery!) I get these dishes from many places including magazines and friends. I Plan Ahead by writing up a Menu Plan every week (well nearly every week). Have a look at the invaluable resource for Mums at Net Mums for inspiration.

This post is introducing a new category for Speedy Suppers or One Pot Wonders that are my Go To meals when I just don’t feel like cooking. Hopefully you’ll find a couple that work for you too and prompt you to share your favourite Speedy supper dish that you make for your family!

One Pot Wonder No 1 is imaginatively entitled Yummy Rice with Spinach and Feta (bear with me on this one it’s worth a try and a firm favourite with my 6 yr old and 9 yr old and husband too!)

Yummy Rice with Spinach and Feta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
2 cups veg stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, sliced if they’re large
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 cup crumbled Feta cheese

Fry the onion and garlic until golden.

Onion and garlic

Add the uncooked rice. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

add rice

Add the wine and stock, bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add wine and stock

Add the spinach and cover for about 5 minutes so the spinach can wilt. It will look as if you have a whole forest of spinach in the saucepan but it’ll reduce to next to nothing as it wilts down.

Add spinach

Add the tomatoes and cheese and stir through.
Add tomatoes and Feta Mix together

Pile into bowls and eat up. I tend to make this on a school night after violin and rugby practice as it’s nice and warming and comforting and can be eaten slumped on the sofa watching re-runs of the Wonder Years (naughty I know but I promise we do eat at the table the rest of the time!)

Finished Dish