Monday, 30 April 2012

Catching up with growing things

It's been a while since I've blogged about growing things.  Or rather not growing things as the picture below shows.  I mentioned I think that Mr W planted out my courgettes whilst I was confined to bed post wisdom tooth, much to my horror.  With all of the "drought" that we've had in the last week, the poor little baby plants stood no chance and have literally been washed away.  I cried.  

However, a couple of people have reassured me that it's not too late to try again, so having repotted on my tomatoes into larger pots this weekend, I used the remaining compost to replant some courgette seeds.  You'll see here that the tomatoes are doing rather well, as is the parsley.

Finally, for Christmas, I gave Mr W a grow-your-own chilli plant.  He ignored it until Easter when I made him plant it, having read the packet and realised that it takes 90 days to grow chillis.  They seem to be doing rather well so far.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Library loot

My library loot posts when I feel that I have got some particularly good books from the library tend to be somewhat sporadic and I never manage to get them to tie into the Library Loot blogging event. But anyhow, it's a rainy Sunday and I've just remembered that I've got several good books out which I'm quite looking forward to reading which hopefully I'll be able to tempt myself with this week.  They're all from reservations rather than from random browsing.

The univited guests (Sadie Jones); greatly enjoyed Jones' last two novels, but I believe that this one is quite different, a mystery story in the early twentieth century. I've seen a number of reviews of this one recently.

Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond); this is an autobiography of a woman who swaps life in LA for life on a ranch. Based on a blog, I have a feeling this could either be really irritating or absolutely fascinating - I hope that it is the latter.

Salvage the bones (Jesmyn Ward); this novel was on many people's projected Orange longlists, and as such interested me. Since some of my favourite books didn't make the Orange longlist, I'm keen to read other people's favourites too.

Battle hymn of the tiger mother (Amy Chua); I read a review of this recently and it sounded fascinating. It's all about the differences in raising Chinese and Western kids and about the cultural differences.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Weekend catch-up

It's been an insanely busy week again, and I'm just not sure where the time goes!  I would love to blog every day as I sometimes used to, but I have barely had any reading time, let alone blogging time.  A large part of this week seems to have been taken up with getting wet in one form or another.  April showers have been the order of the day since the government announced the drought, and I only managed 1 out of 9 cycle rides to or from work last week in the dry.  I'm contemplating doing a service to the nation by getting some new waterproof trousers to match my new waterproof jacket; I know the rain would stop if I had some.

I have also been doing a lot of swimming.  On Monday morning I found out that I wouldn't be able to have my usual pre-work swim on Friday as the Swimathon was happening.  This is a charity event where you can sign up for a mile, 2.5k or 5k swim challenge.  Seeing that there were places available, I decided that I didn't have to miss my swim, and, as the session was scheduled to start at 6.15, 3/4 earlier than I usually hit the pool, I figured that as long as I swam fast, I could do 5k and still get to work.  Dreaded the 5.15 alarm, as the usual 6.05 one is early enough, but managed to get up, and it was just about light as I cycled to the pool, seeing 4 bunny rabbits on the way.  The challenge was good fun and I completed it in 1:30:39, although I am convinced that I completed 2 extra lengths which would have of course taken me over the 90 minutes!  Got given a medal which I showed off proudly at work to my colleagues' slight horror, but they are used to me by now...

Today, I have been to an Openwater Swimming day in Reading.  It was mostly seminars, which were very interesting, for example, hearing about the Olympic Marathon 10k, learning more about good nutrition, a session from the coach at the training camp I went to in Feb on technique, and various other things.  One of the reasons I was keen to go was to participate in a 750m timed swim (not quite a race) as it would be my first UK openwater swimming this year.  I was less keen to get in given the weather, and particularly given that the water was only 12.5C!  However, with about 60 other brave souls I got in and managed to get round the course.  The first half was really hard as my body panicked and I became  extremely breathless due to the shock of the cold, but the second half was pretty good.  Not quite sure of my time as Mr W needed to be back for a concert, and I was desperate for a hot shower.  Here I am, the front swimmer in this picture, unable to say my name at the end of the swim.

I have managed to fit in a little bit of reading.  I have greatly enjoyed a book about a male librarian who takes up Ironman triathlon called Can't run, bike or swim.  And I've read a nice "mumlit" book called The playgroup by Janey Jones which was sweet and unpredictable.

Tomorrow will be a day of jobs and swim training and maybe some time to sit and chill out before another even more busy week ahead!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Verity's Veg Box Part 3

BOOOO.  iPhone FAIL.  I took photos of our veg box and fruit box straight into blogger last night, omitted to save the post (blogger saves automatically on the internet but doesn't on a phone it seems) and now they are gone, and the veg and fruit is all put away and already being eaten.  You will have to imagine the illustrations to this post.

I have to say it was with some trepidation that I came home on Tuesday night to unpack my veg box.  You see, I'd said no to three of the eight vegetables (fennel - can't stand, chicory - don't think I like and don't know what to do with and it sounds strange, aubergine - quite like but a lot of effort) and I wondered what I'd get in their place - would it be something weird and that I wouldn't know what to do with?

Luck was on my side.  The three substitutions were asparagus (my favourite veg probably, especially at this time of year), watercress (LOVE!) and flat beans.  I wasn't sure what a flat bean was but it made it into my risotto last night and it tasted pretty good in my mixed veggies risotto last night.  Check out these greens!!

Also, we got an avocado (LOVE!), cherry tomatoes (perfect for lunch boxes), beetroot (complete with mud on), sweet potatoes and a savoy cabbage.  The savoy cabbage is the only one I'm a bit dubious about now, although I bravely put a leaf into my risotto.

It's another difficult week cateringwise with my evening duty at work on the wrong night (how a change to the routine confuses the constitution), and Mr W out on Friday and Saturday nights and in need of something quick, so not sure how to make the best of everything yet.

I will make a sweet potato and lentil curry, based on a butternut squash curry recipe that I cut out of the Guardian a little while ago, for Mr W, which will probably do for Friday and Saturday nights and maybe Monday too.  I think the beetroot will go into a risotto to have with salmon as a Sunday treat, salmon leftover in the freezer from a supermarket multibuy offer.  I expect the rest of those green veggies will end up in risotto with maybe pesto or goats cheese for a bit of extra flavour.

In terms of fruit, we are overwhelmed by bananas.  We still had three from last week and the ones that arrived this week are already heading for ripe.  Mr W can't be persuaded to eat them at work, and tends to lose them in his rucksack with rather gruesome results, so there will be more banana and oat rock cakes as well as some banana bread or cake.  Has anyone got any other good banana ideas?  Banana pancakes are quite nice.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A sneak preview

Some veg from this week's veg box all ready for my evening meal :-)

Sunday, 22 April 2012

weekend catching up

It's been a difficult week here and I am very glad that the last eight days are now over and hopefully things are on the up again. There hasn't been much posting on the blog because there hasn't been much to write about, no baking really with the exception of some more rock cakes, no reading at all (this is quite unusual and not really a good thing), and no swimming.

However, the wisdom tooth appears to have healed sufficiently for me to get back in the water yesterday and I had a delightful cycle ride in the sunshine to Woodstock (about 4.5 miles away) to use their heated outdoor pool. It's only a 4 lane, 25m pool, but it always opens in April as is used by the local school for its swimming classes.  It's heated to 29C which is really a little hot for proper swimming but for convalescent swimming or a short swim combined with a bike ride (triathlon training?) it was just perfect. Only 5 other people there and I got 80 lengths swum without too much difficulty. This morning I was back in my usual pool for my usual Sunday morning 5k which was hard as I did it in 4 blocks of 1.25k at a 3.8k race pace. That probably sounds completely incoherent, but I'll translate - it was quite a hard swim. I'm definitely looking forward to some Sunday dinner later! First race of the season next weekend, but it's only 750m so hopefully I can pull out some sprinting to get a good result.

Of course a week that hasn't been too great is one that should probably be cheered up by new books and two have arrived on my doorstep this week. Vicki in Venice is the last book that I needed to complete my Lorna Hill Sadler's Wells collection. I was quite fussy about wanting the GGBP edition to match the other ones that I have in my set, but they were retailing for over £100 on the Amazon marketplace. One came up on ebay, I put in quite a high bid, but the bidding went up to just over half of what I had bid for it, and it was mine for just over £40. Expensive for a book, but actually quite cheap for the market value, and these books are only going to go up and up in price.

I've also got a copy of Ruth Clemens' The busy girl's guide to cake decorating. Ruth was another finalist in the first series of The great British bake off and was my favourite to win. She has an awesome blog called The pink whisk and I am hoping for more of the same in this book.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Verity's Veg Box #2

Unfortunately Verity's Veg Box #2 arrived while I was poorly in bed; It seemed that the trauma of having a wisdom tooth out had finally hit and although I made it back to work on Monday, on Tuesday I wasn't able to surface at all. It's going to be a difficult week to plan for as a family member is in hospital and requiring visits, Mr W is out on Friday night, I finish work late on Thursday night, and of course chewing at the moment is Virtually Impossible. But plan I must so that I make good use of what we've got and work out what else I need to buy to supplement it.

In the fruit box this week we got bananas again (yay! my favourite fruit!), oranges (Mr W will moan about these as they are difficult to eat at work), and plums which are just approaching perfect ripeness. It's nice that we've got bananas in a mix of ripeness this time around.

In the veg box we have got salad potatoes (so I'm guessing these are good for boiling rather than roasting?), another box of spinach (a last minute substitution it seems as I had been looking forward to trying some chard for the first time...), some vine tomatoes, a red pepper, two largeish courgettes, a smallish butternut squash and some shittake mushrooms (so that's the thing that's new to me this week!). Oh and some white asparagus! I've never had this in the UK before, only in Austria so it's quite exciting, although it seems a shame just to bung it in a risotto (which is what I usually do with asparagus!).

So, the menu plan:

Wednesday night: Risotto with tinned tomatoes, asparagus and grated courgette (with leftovers for me for Thursday) served with soft goats cheese and pine nuts.
Thursday night: stuffed red pepper for Mr W (which I can make on my morning off), stuffed with garlic and feta cheese and halved vine tomatoes served with couscous.
Friday night: salmon noodle soup from this recipe which I found when googling what to do with shittake mushrooms. We've already got rice noodles and I've had a jar of red curry paste in the cupboard for ages but not been brave enough to use it. I can make this quickly in two batches so that Mr W can eat early. Might interchange this with Wednesday night if I want something quicker than risotto.
Weekend Lunch: butternut squash soup (maybe using some red curry paste too for a twist?)
Saturday dinner: Tuna steak and jacket potatoe for Mr W with tomatoes. Can't think this far ahead to what I'll have.
Sunday dinner: Quiche/pastryless quiche for me filled with courgette and spinach and served with the potatoes and more spinach. Leftovers for Monday! We sometimes like to have a fish Sunday dinner so if we do have one of those, then the veg box quiche will be held over...It's ages since I've had the yummy M and S haddock mornay (gluten free!) and their carrot, swede and potato mash...

So it looks like I'll need to get some more tomatoes, maybe some more asparagus (British asparagus is now in season, yayy!), and possibly something for Sunday dinner.

Verity's Veg Box #1 (part 2)

As tomorrow another veg box will  be arriving, I thought I'd report back on my first week of veg boxing.  I'm happy to report that bar about a handful of spinach all of the vegetables have been eaten.  Not doing so well with the fruit, mainly because the pears are still rock hard so none of them have been touched yet!

It seems to have been a week of juggling different ingredients to work out the best way to use things up without having to buy too many extra ingredients, the aim is after all to be more economical!  I did find that I needed to buy a few extra vegetables last week, and looking at the ingredients listed for tomorrow, I think I will probably have to do the same.  Sometimes in order to try to use a new recipe for a different ingredient you just can't make substitutions with what's on hand.  The small box with 8 sorts of vegetables was just about right for us, any more than that we'd be overwhelmed and I wouldn't feel able to buy extras to supplement it.

The big success of last week were the broad beans.  Who knew that the pods that they came in were so beautifully furry on the inside?  I used them in a risotto with other spring green vegetables, and then I made a quiche with the same spring green vegetables

I'm determined to take more pictures for the blog now that I have my iphone and here is the only picture that I took from the week with last night's beetroot risotto which I served with salmon and spinach salad.  We've definitely eaten less fish this week due to the focus on vegetables but it's nice to have a Sunday treat of fish when you don't eat meat.

Now looking forward to seeing what turns up in this week's box and working out the best way to use it up!

(oh and the tooth, or rather ex-tooth, still very sore and quite sicky feeling but I did just about survive the day at work, mainly because my colleagues were kind to me and let me stay out of the busyness)

Sunday, 15 April 2012

On iPhones and being in bed

Spent all but three hours in bed yesterday and it looks like today will be
more of the same. Post op my cheek is very swollen, bruised and sore, which is stopping me from sleeping much. Today I am feeling quite out of sorts, not least because it is a nice day and I have lots to do in the garden and house and I haven't been two days without a swim this year :(

On the upside the tooth fairy brought me an iPhone and this post comes to you courtesy of the blogger app. I have wanted one for so long and it is even better than anticipated. The best thing is the fact that it has a camera so I should be able to get far more pictures of my bakes and makes. Followed shortly by the number of amazing apps available. On advice I have got myself a running app to measure how far I run (optimistic at present!), Wunderlist to organise my to-dos and menu planning, the met office to keep an eye on the weather and of course twitter/Facebook/google reader to keep in touch with my friends.

One of my favourite other apps is Instagram to take fuzzy photos and here is an Instagrammed Bernard the best who is currently keeping me company in bed.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Some baking

Thanks all for the kind comments on the post about my wisdom tooth.  The good news is that this time it was a known quantity and I had a very experienced consultant so the actual op only took 20 minutes.  The less good news is that once the anaesthetic wore off the pain has since mainly been excruciating, so I have been awake most of the night and don't exactly feel tip top.  Mr W has confined me to bed which isn't so bad as the tooth fairy brought me an iphone.  If I could only get my head to work I'd be setting it up, but I can't so I'm writing a blog post instead.

It's been a while since I posted about baking, mainly because I gave it up for Lent!  Mr W and I had just eaten so much cake that we probably needed a break for the good of our healths!  Since Easter, I've done a bit of baking but I'm concentrating on less extravagant things, using ingredients that I have in the cupboards which are once again overflowing.

At the top are my gluten free banana oat and walnut rock cakes.  I've been working on this recipe over the last few weeks having modified them from what was originally a biscuit recipe in a magazine.  The current version bears no resemblance at all to the original biscuit and has been refined into a rock cake.  This time I tried it without dried raisins, but they do really need them.  Here's the recipe if anyone wants to have a go:

4oz of sunflower spread/butter/margarine depending on how decadent you are feeling
3oz of sugar
1 egg
4 oz of oats (ideally not the jumbo ones)
4oz of flour (gluten free or otherwise)
1 large or 2 small very ripe bananas
2oz chopped walnuts
2 oz sultanas (or raisins would work too) (or maybe cranberries would be nice - not tried that yet).
Cream the fat and sugar together and beat in the egg.  Mash and stir in the banana and then fold in the dried ingredients until well mixed.  Put spoonfuls onto a greased or lined baking sheet and cook in the oven at 180C (170C fan oven) until golden, about 20 minutes I think.

The bottom picture is of a "cherry and almond traybake".  I put it in inverted commas because there aren't any cherries in it at all.  It's a bit like a bakewell tart, only using coconut as well as ground almonds in the filling, and instead of using cherry jam and topping with glace cherries as the recipe suggested, I used raspberry jam and topped with flaked almonds.  I made the pastry myself too (the recipe called for readymade) and it showcases my new brownie tin which I got at Lakeland at the weekend.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Some new books...

...of the cheering variety.  Some of my readers may know that I am having another wisdom tooth out in an hour or so in hospital.  I've treated myself to some new books for when I get back later today, and of course the obvious choice is baking books because they are full of pretty pictures which can be looked at rather than actually read, which having had a fair amount of ill health and medical procedures in the last four or five years I have learnt is what I will need.

Three books - Phil Vickery's Gluten Free for Kids - you can't go wrong with a children's cooking book - one of my most used cookery books is a 20 year old copy of Sainsburys Cooking for Kids (my drop scone recipe originates from there, as well as a banana yoghurt ice cream, beautiful chocolate cake, flapjacks, bread...), hoping for more of the same with this book but without the gluten!  Biscuit is by Miranda Gore-Browne who you may remember as a finalist from the first series of The Great British Bake Off.  She made such beautiful creations on the show so I am really looking forward to this, and it already comes endorsed by Cornflower.  Finally, I should be clear that I currently have no intention of Starting a Cake Decorating Business from home, but you never know and how fascinating to read about how to do it.

I do have a couple of bakes to share with you which hopefully I'll post about tomorrow.  Despite having a wonderful array of veggies, we've still needed a bit of cake (well, who doesn't when anticipating something unpleasant?!), but I'm going with the principles of simple baking and baking things from my cupboards as I did in early 2011.  Probably won't last long once I read my way through these books!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Verity's Veg Box #1

Super excited about our first veg box which arrived today!  It was the first thing I looked at when I got in, before I even took my coat and bicycle helmet off.  I knew it had arrived safely as Mr W had been waiting in for the gasman this morning but he had left it for me to open.

So what did we get?

We got spinach, a lettuce, three enormous tomatoes, three beetroot (substitute for onions which I said no to), a paper bag of broad beans, a green pepper, broccoli and a bunch of radishes.  In the fruit box we got 7 apples which look so tasty, 6 rock hard pears (now ripening on a windowsill) and 7 bananas (anticipate imminent banana bread when they all ripen at the same time).

So what's the plan?

Salads with the main meals of radishes and lettuce, may also give some radishes with Mr W's sandwiches.

Tonight - broad bean, broccoli and asparagus and courgette risotto (the latter two vegetables left from the weekend)
Wednesday - frittata with broccoli, asparagus, courgette and broad beans
Thursday - veg chilli utilising the green pepper
Friday - broccoli and spinach risotto (had this at a restaurant on Easter day, very tasty).
Saturday - Mr W will probably be desperate for something less vegetabley by then and his usual Saturday night dinner of tuna steak and jacket potato
Sunday - something with the beetroot.  Risotto?  Not really sure what to do with the beetroot apart from a risotto.  Anyone got any favourite beetroot ideas?  I do like risottos because I like my vegetables soft and at least then when you overcook them you don't throw the nutrients away with the cooking water!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Growing things and vegetables at Easter

Easter is definitely a time of new life.  I know we can buy daffodils in the shops from early January these days, but it is around Easter time that they really feel appropriate.  My lovely team at work presented me with these beautiful mini daffodils for my birthday before I went away, and over the 6 days that we were on holiday they have bloomed and add wonderful Easterly colour to our sitting room.

Now we have a garden I am keen to make the most of it. My courgettes which I wrote about here are blossoming... 

My father kindly watered them whilst we were away, and I am just waiting for Mr W to finish digging in the garden to make a bed for them.

Our garden is if I'm honest, a bit of a mess.  I had hoped that it would be our project for 2012, but we just don't have the time needed to throw at it (or money, which buys other people's time).  We will plod on slowly with it, and in the meantime, I'm focussing on container gardening (courgettes aside).  We have a lovely sunny concrete "patio" which was just perfect for the tomatoes last year, so I'm going to extend the number of things that I'll try to grow.

I've already got my tomatoes going, this year I'm doing them from scratch which is quite exciting.  Last year my colleague kindly gave me two plants and I hope she has got some spares on standby this year as these look so very fragile.  I had to thin them out before we went away and I nearly cried at having to kill some of the baby plants that I'd germinated.

The parsley at the back of this picture is doing rather well too - I think I need to thin it out or put it into a bigger pot?

Mr W took me to the garden centre today.  (He must have had some post-birthday-guilt as he took me to the one next to Lakeland and Hobbycraft which proved a little heavy on the credit cards).  We bought a strawberry planter - I have grand plans for a strawberry patch like the one that we had in my garden as a child but the ground is not yet ready - it's pink, and it holds 9 strawberry plants (which were conveniently on 3 for 2) and we planted them this morning.  We'll need some netting to keep the birds off in due course.

Whilst we were there, I spotted this cute planter of beetroots!  I have no idea about beetroots and the instructions that came with it are a bit basic, but I'll keep watering them, keep it in a sunny and sheltered spot and hope for the best (when do you know how to pick them?)

In other, related news, I am very excited to have ordered my first vegetable box from Abel and Cole which will arrive on Tuesday.  I know I am very behind the times with this as schemes to have a weekly box of seasonal vegetables delivered must have existed for over a decade now.  Mr W and I found trying to eat more healthily on Lent A Good Thing and want to continue if we can.  I'm a bit unadventurous in both my cooking and eating and I am hoping that having a random assortment of vegetables each week will inspire me!  (Actually, if I'm honest, the reason I chose Abel and Cole rather than a local scheme was partly the midweek delivery day, but mainly the fact that you could specify things which you didn't want included (onions and fennel in my case), but also the fact that they tell you in advance what you will get which appeals to my control and planning side).  I absolutely can't wait for my first box to arrive - I may even make a blog feature of it and post about what I get and what I plan to make (and to seek advice from my more seasoned readers who know what to do with a broad bean (because seriously, I don't, at the moment, all I eat is spinach, asparagus, tinned tomatoes and the occasional courgette or bit of brocolli...).  Watch this space.