Trying out recipe boxes

With all the hot weather I felt like I needed to branch out a bit in terms of hot weather food as cooking was grim during the heatwave and my salad repertoire getting a bit boring. I spotted that our veg box delivery company, Abel and Cole, offered salad recipe boxes so I ordered two boxes to try out over a couple of weeks.

Believe it or not, I actually remembered to take pictures as I made all of them…

Avocado and radish feta salsa salad with polenta shards (I admit this one sounded so pretentious I fell about laughing when it arrived). I really liked the polenta with this one, as it isn’t something I cook very often.

Rainbow carrot salad. This felt like I was about to eat rather a lot of raw carrot (500g between two of us), which we did, but actually it was rather nice as a salad, with the other ingredients and the dressing.

Griddled courgette, basil and gnocchetti salad. This one tasted so nice and I loved the tiny gnocchetti pasta. I’d definitely make this one again.

Roast summer squash and sheep’s cheese salad. This one wouldn’t have been much help during the heatwave as it required having the oven on to roast the pattypan squash. It was delicious and would also work well with other types of cheese, if you have difficulty sourcing sheep’s cheese.

The recipes were all fun to try and it was nice not having to worry about weighing and measuring (all ingredients were provided in the right quantities in either recyclable or compostable packaging). We found the portions rather large – one box contained two recipes, each of which was meant to be enough for two people as a main, or four for a side. We found that each would comfortably feed two adults and a toddler-with-a-big-appetite, or two adults plus enough for a packed lunch the next day. The cost worked out at £7.50 per meal, so approximately £3 per portion, which is more than I’d usually spend on cooking a meal. It would work out cheaper to buy the ingredients in normal quantities (eg bulgur wheat featured in two recipes).

I will definitely be adding at least a couple of these to my regular recipes as we did enjoy eating them, although it emerged that the OH really doesn’t like salad dressing in any format! I don’t think I’d start ordering a recipe box as a regular thing as it does work out quite expensive, but as an occasional treat it’s definitely worthwhile.

I also found it was quite a different style to my usual way of cooking. Normally I like cooking things that require a bit of prep, but then go into the oven for a while, during which I load the dishwasher, sort three loads of washing and do the ironing so it did take some adjusting to this more intensive style of cooking.

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Two finished projects

I managed to get two projects finished in the same evening!

First up was a rainbow tank top for LO using cotton aran left over from the rainbow baby blanket. The pattern is the basic vest pattern by Ann Budd which I’ve used several times before. This is the 2-4 year size, and seems to have come out quite short and squat, I should maybe have made it a bit longer in the body…

That used up a total of 280 metres of yarn (165g of yarn). There’s still about some very small odds and ends of this in my stash which I’m going to use to make a small doll’s blanket, which LO will enjoy playing with (she is a bit obsessed with making picnics for her toys at the moment, so I’m sure they will like having a picnic rug).

Second was Lush, which I’ve knitted for my niece’s birthday in September. This was fun to knit, although I think wasn’t a brilliant match for the yarn I chose. I used Berlingo, as my niece is allergic to wool, and this is nice and glittery (niece will be three…), but it’s thinner than some DK yarn and so the fabric is very very drapey indeed. One of my knitting group friends made this in an adult size at the same time as me, and it does look amazing knitted up in wool.

That used up 106 g (348.9 metres), although I will hand over the remaining part-skein along with a spare button in case repairs are necessary! The buttons are from Hobbycraft, which was a bit frustrating as they’re very expensive compared to the haberdashery I used to get buttons from.

That gives stash totals so far this year:

Yarn in: 3303 metres
Yarn out: 2578.7 metres
So 724.3 metres more stashed than used so far.

Garden in a heatwave

As you may have noticed, Britain had a bit of a heatwave going on for the last few months. It has been fairly grim round where I live, with about nine weeks of temperatures continuously around and above 30° C (quite a lot hotter than we’re used to around here). It has been a struggle to do very much at all, as our home isn’t set up for long periods of heat, and work doesn’t have air con (my office was generally over 28° for much of this period). My car has air con, but it is very antiquated so tended not to have much effect until I was almost home from work (assuming I’d managed to find a parking space in the shade, otherwise it was like driving home in a furnace!). It has been very difficult sleeping, or working, or doing, well, anything really.

It has also been difficult to find things to do with LO as, like dogs, toddlers seem to need exercise outside somewhere every day, but almost all the play areas are in the full sun! I’m assuming this is because the usual British climate means this stops algae and moss growing on the play equipment and makes it all less likely to be slippery. Fortunately there is a water park not far from where we live, so a LOT of time has been spent there, and at a shady park a short distance away where we picnicked a few times.

And the garden, the poor garden? Well, it has struggled. We prioritised watering the containers, and kept the hanging baskets going until after my charity fundraiser open garden in July, after which we stopped watering them and just let them die. The rest of the garden has got droopier and droopier and we’d empty the washing up bowl over anything that looked like it was heading beyond droopy to almost dead. The lawn pretty much turned yellow/brown, stopped growing and appeared to be straw, apart from odd bits where the weeds stayed bright green and kept on growing.

 

 

This is one of my hanging baskets. I am very sad we had to let them die, but it seemed so wasteful to keep on watering them. The contents of the water butt only lasted about three weeks, so after that we were having to water from the mains, and using whatever grey water we could. The hanging baskets were planted with Trixiplugs which are three different varieties combined into one plug.

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Some plants did thrive though.

 

I had some Cosmos in containers, which we kept on watering as they were covered in bees and other insects. The Cosmos has been really bright and cheerful on the patio.

And the basil I planted on the kitchen windowsill has done really well. It’s a new-to-me variety from Seeds of Italy, which we purchased at Fishbourne Roman Palace whilst on holiday. It has much bigger leaves than basil I’ve grown previously, and tastes absolutely delicious. I will definitely be ordering more seed from them when the time comes.

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How’s your garden looking after the heat wave?

 

Lots of knitting

I got the large baby blanket for my friend’s baby finished, which means I’ve used a grand total of 1305 metres of yarn on that. I am really pleased with the effect, as the original pattern, Gansey Afghan by Lena Skvagerson was intended to be all one colour. I thought I’d get bored knitting like that, and decided I wanted to go for a rainbow stained glass effect but was a little unsure about quantities and colours.

Anyway, it worked, and I’m really pleased with the end result! The yarn I chose is Paintbox Yarns Cotton Aran, which is inexpensive, machine washable, soft and available in about a million colours from Love Knitting. The blanket is huge – it will easily cover a single bed – which is what I was aiming for as I hope it will have longevity and be suitable for  a teenage bedroom too.

I bought three balls of yarn to make a cardigan for my niece – she likes yellow and has a wool allergy so there wasn’t anything in my stash that was suitable. The pattern I’ve chosen is Lush by Tincanknits, which involves a lace panel yoke, then lots of picked up stitches to make a collar and then the body. The yarn is Berlingo by Bergère de France, which has a lovely sheen to it and a glint of metallic. It looks like cloth of gold knitted up 😉


That meant another  493 metres acquired, but my totals so far this year are looking healthier:

2423 metres acquired and 1805 metres used, which means I’ve only acquired 618 more metres than I’ve used so far.

I’ve finished another project too, although this one didn’t involve stashbusting as it was the second pair of socks I’d promised my friend before she died that I’d finish knitting for her Dad – that yarn was never part of my stash, so can’t count! The pattern was just a basic sock pattern and the yarn is WYS Signature sock in the Marie Curie colourway. I must admit it feels like I spent forever knitting these, mainly because it was at the same time as the blanket, so these were my small portable project, but also because they are size 11, so absolutely enormous!

Toddler portions

This was a useful tip I found in an Annabel Karmel weaning book so thought I’d share it. The actual recipe was for cottage pie made with minced raw meat, but I tend to mince the leftovers from a roast joint of lamb or beef and use that instead. No idea if it tastes better like this; I don’t eat meat!

So here is the remains of a piece of roast beef after the OH and LO have had some with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes etc.

I then cut this up into smallish pieces and put through the mincer – mine is mostly plastic which I’ve found easier to clean than the all metal ones.

I then make it up into cottage pie base and top with mashed potato – place in appropriate container, cool down and into the freezer they go.

Here’s the cunning bit – Annabel Karmel’s recipe involves making it in ramekin dishes, which are the perfect size for a toddler portion. They are, but I’ve also got an OH to feed, so here we have a couple of man size portions and a couple of toddler size ones!

I did consider making a bigger one for both of them to share, but LO eats at nursery several days a week so it seemed more flexible to keep them separate and then defrost what was needed.

I usually get them out the freezer the night before and put in the fridge to defrost. They are then fine popped in the oven the following afternoon/evening – 200 degrees C for 20-30mins depending on the size.

These are brilliant on a work night or if you’ve got something else you need to be doing and this is the only time to do it – just put in oven, prepare some veg to do on the hob at the same time and you’ve got 25 mins or so to do something else. I also make a lentil version just for me 🙂

It’s also a pretty economical way to cook – I buy the smallest joint of meat I can, and find it will usually provide 3 x man portions and 3 x toddler portions, especially if you bulk it out a bit with lentils or kidney beans. And, of course, that also means at least two evenings when hardly any effort is required in cooking tea!

I try and freeze them in existing containers that will go in the oven ok, but if I don’t have enough I use the foil tray containers. Poundland seemed to be the cheapest supplier, but recommended washing them before using(?!) so I now use the Wilkos ones.

Books read 2018 #1

OK, so on my old blog I used to write little reviews of books I’d read and post them up five at a time. And then I had a baby and actually reading books as an activity simply disappeared from my life, along with other things like sleep, having conversations about topics other than poo and going to the loo on my own. It wasn’t that I didn’t read anything at all. But there were hardly any books, and those that I did read were often geared towards having a baby, plus there was never time to write blog posts about them. I might write a post one day about those that I found helpful (and those I didn’t!) though. I’ve still been recording books read in my LibraryThing account, which should also show up in my blog sidebar. Another thing I found about having a child was it prompted me to reread some of the books I’d enjoyed as a teenager (not as a child, it’ll be well over a decade before LO will be reading some of these!), whether to have a different perspective on them now I’m a mum, or because they are ‘easier’ reading for a frazzled brain, I’m not sure. I did read a theology book last year but that totally fried my brain so I’ve decided to stick to easier things for the time being!

I’ve been trying to make more time to read books, and have kind of succeeded. Here are my first five books of 2018!

#1 The case against sugar by Gary Taubes
I read a review of this in the Guardian, and thought it looked interesting. I developed Gestational Diabetes during pregnancy (out of the blue – I had no risk factors and so wasn’t routinely tested) and had to go on an extremely limited diet. It wasn’t just a case of cutting out sweets and chocolate, I had to rethink my entire diet and lost a huge amount of weight (I had to stop wearing my maternity wear within a week of the birth!), so I thought reading a popular science book about sugar and its effects would be thought-provoking. And it was. The book is well written and accessible, with not too much science for a non-scientist like me. Although I was vaguely aware that sugar consumption had increased over time, I had no idea of the huge increase that had happened during the twentieth century, and how this interplayed with politics and economics, as well as coinciding with a huge increase in the development of diseases like diabetes. As the mother of a young child, I was well aware of how this is beginning to impact on health promotion initiatives, such as the NHS Change4life sugar swaps, and have taken some action to reduce sugar in my family’s diet. Although I do still love chocolate…

#2 The wonder by Emma Donoghue
I saw this in an independent bookshop last year, and picked it up as I try and support these bookshops. I had read her earlier book, Room, which I’d found quite compelling and was hoping for more of the same. The wonder is about a little girl who has stopped eating but appears to be miraculously thriving, and the English Nightingale nurse who is sent to Ireland to observe her. It took me a while to get into, but when I did it was worth it, as there is a lot of incidental detail about politics, nursing/medical history and religion which I found interesting. The ending was also unexpected! 😉

#3 Goodbye Piccadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This is the first in a series of WWI themed novels which my Mum had been reading and which got passed on to me. I decided I needed more novel reading in my life as it helps me relax before bed, plus these remind me a bit of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet chronicles which I first read as a teenager and then reread when I finished work to go on maternity leave (but before having the baby). It took me a few chapters to get into this first one as, with these books, there is a large central family, plus servants plus friends and extended family to get your head around. Fortunately a family tree was provided!

It was worth it. This first book is set in 1914 and covers the run up to the war and the first months from the various perspectives of the family members – the oldest son keen to sign up, the eldest daughter whose fiancé goes to war, how their parents feel etc. There is much about class divides and how the news about what was really going on filtered through. It is interspersed with accounts of what was happening at the Front – via letters home or meetings with more influential people.

I enjoyed this first one, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the family more in the subsequent books.

#4 Keep the home fires burning by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#5 The land of my dreams by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The next two books in the series, set in 1915 and 1916 respectively. There are a few more twists and turns, some of them predictable, some of them much more so. I am enjoying the different perspectives on women’s lives (I’m finding the men much less interesting): from the elder daughter preparing for marriage, the servant also hopefully preparing for marriage and uncovering some of her past to the former suffragette who goes on to become a woman police officer (I had had no idea WWI was when this started) and then to drive an ambulance. The social changes in the background are interesting – women’s fashions, what women are able to do, the difference in attitudes towards homosexuality in the upper classes and otherwise.

Really interesting series and highly readable. I’m saving the next to read on holiday and the final one (1918) is due to be published in June so I’ll get it from the library.

Can’t quite believe I managed to read five books and it isn’t even halfway through the year yet! Still feels a bit pathetic compared to my days as a train commuter when I got through 1.5 books per week!

What have you been reading recently?

April gardening

April was characterised by a particularly crazy temperature range. The garden seemed stuck in winter still and nothing was really growing and I had zero desire to be out there.

Then suddenly the temperatures shot into the mid-20s and it was like we’d zoomed straight into summer.

The plants shot into life – the apple trees seemed to acquire both leaves and blossom within a few days.

The daffodils had been delayed flowering and were still around (mysteriously not many came up this year so I need to plant more this autumn) and the tulips decided they’d better get going.

The dicentra was another one that went from apparently dead lump of dried twig to leaves and flowers within the space of a week.

I took advantage of the brief week of warm (yes, it’s gone cold again since) to re-pot some herbs with fresh compost. The snow etc had killed the lavender so I bought another one at the local high street market. The peppermint had spread to the edges of the container leaving the middle empty so I chopped it up and potted some of it in the middle, disposing of the rest of it in the garden waste bin as I do not want mint taking over the garden. Bizarrely the chocolate mint is still growing happily in the centre of its pot so I didn’t need to do this one.