We have an Allotment! and a Trip Down Memory Lane

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Back in January we applied to the local council for an allotment and received the exciting news at the beginning of the last week that one had become available. After making an appointment with the site manager to go and see the plot last Wednesday we came away brimming with excitement and full of ideas.

We are planning to keep it pretty old school by planting fairly traditional crops directly into the earth rather than making raised beds -which look very pretty but offer us no advantage. The crops we have discussed thus far includes kale, carrots, potatoes, broccoli and a mix of culinary and medicinal herbs etc, crops that my maternal Granddad would have easily recognised.

My Grandad was a gentle man and a gentleman, who was also a keen veg grower. Occupying a corner spot, my Grandparents house had a generous garden in which to grow things. The garden to the front was full of pretty flowers and shrubs, while in the larger side garden cabbages and kale stood in precision rows like a troops on parade. It was here, in this garden that my Grandad thought it would be a wheeze for my sister, Deb and me to take photos of cabbage patch dolls amid the cabbages (Sadly I couldn’t find those photos). At the rear, beans and peas covered cane supports, which to our youthful imaginations were teepees in which we would sit and play.

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I digressed somewhat there didn’t I! Our hoped planting for the allotment isn’t born simply out a romanticised nostalgia for (my) childhood but more practically, it’s a reflection of the vegetables that we eat in quantity. Although our allotment is a half plot – approximately 5 metres wide by 26 metres long- there is still plenty of scope for growing and we hope that by next year that between the greenhouse at home and the allotment we will be growing a good proportion of our food. Until then of course we have our veg box from Riverford Organics, with whom we a really impressed.

Stella x

Satisfying Autumn Eats – Plant Based Frittata

As nights draw in and the day for the clocks going back in the U.K looms closer, home becomes ever more important;  particularly for those of us in the UK living under the most stringent covid-19 restrictions. Having a more introverted personality, the restrictions aren’t so much of a burden for my beloved and I, we have regular contact with family and many of our pastimes being out in the open and enjoying nature – pubs notwithstanding.

We have been using our time in a variety of creative pursuits, my beloved is back at his art and I am enjoying having the time to write and cook without the distractions of life. I have been particularly busy in the kitchen this week coming up with new recipes that are filling, comforting, mindful of my dietary restrictions but also make the best use of our veg box.

I have really been enjoying the veg box. It being a ‘get what you’re given’ scenario it has re-ignited my love of cooking. It’s not that I’m reinventing the wheel or anything but simply adapting recipes in my repertoire to include ingredients from the veg box. I had a lot of fun this week experimenting with my chickpea frittata recipe -see below- in which I used summer greens, leeks, garlic and various spices. The end result was much more delicious (even if I do say so myself) than my original recipe – even my beloved, who is wary of certain veg (because they taste too ‘green’) was rapturous over it.

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The joy of this recipe is that it is gluten and dairy free and is filled with tasty seasonal produce.

For the Frittata batter you will need:

1 ¾ cups of gram flour (chickpea flour)
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of garlic granules
1 tsp of cumin
¾ tsp of caraway seeds
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups of water

For the filling you will need:
1 Leek
3 good sized leaves from summer greens (stalks removed) cut into narrow strips
3 cloves of garlic (grated)
5 mushrooms cut into chunks
25 grams of dairy free butter plus extra to add by eye as you sauté the filling. (vegetarians can use dairy butter if they desire)
1tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp celery salt
dash of olive oil

Melt butter in a study skillet (preferably one with a lid) add a dash of olive oil to prevent your butter burning. Sauté the leek until soft then add garlic, greens, cumin seeds, ginger and celery salt. When the greens are soft add mushrooms, cover with a lid and turn the heat right down.

I add additional butter as needed, You don’t want your filling swimming but you don’t want it to burn either. When the mushrooms have cooked turn off the heat, preheat your oven at 180 degrees C.
Prepare your batter by sieving your gram flour into a mixing bowl. Add the other dry ingredients and sir through the flour. Add 1 cup of water and start to whisk using either a manual balloon whisk or an electric hand whisk until smooth. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of water slowly, your aiming for a smooth batter with a similar viscosity to a Yorkshire pudding or pancake batter.

Add your sautéed veg and sir through. Pour your mix into a well greased silicone or ceramic quiche dish and bake for around 45 to 50 mins . To check that your frittata is cooked slide in a metal skewer or knife, if the knife comes out clean it is done.

The frittata can be eaten warm or cold with a delicious side salad or lightly steamed vegetables.

Ordering a Veg Box and Ethical Considerations

IMG_0776Is it slightly bonkers to be excited about a veg box? I’ve just ordered our first box from Riverford Organic Farmers and am really looking forward to receiving it. We opted for the zero packaging organic veg box (priced at £15.35), as this is something very important to us and we have been trying (and sadly often failing during the lockdown period) to reduce our non recyclable waste.

One of the knock on effects of the Corona Virus pandemic has been the closure of small family run businesses. I am thinking very specifically of the greengrocers in our local town centre where we often bought our fruit and veg prior to the pandemic. We loved this particular greengrocer because most of the veg was loose so you could pick the volume you wanted and brown paper bags were provided to put them in (the above photo was taken pre-lockdown and is typically what we purchased from there). Excellent – little waste and no plastic! Plus, it was a local business and by choosing them we were helping to buoy the local economy.

Sadly the shop being very small (very difficult to socially distance) and shopping in the larger supermarkets being more expedient and often cheaper; was fatal for our greengrocers. Large supermarket chains benefit from economies of scale i.e purchasing power: they can buy in greater volume at a cheaper price, making it difficult for smaller businesses to compete on price and availability. Ever was it so – but with the additional strain of lockdown restrictions and social distancing it has became unviable for many small businesses to continue operating. I must confess that I was complicit in this shift. Owing to travel restrictions we were forced to solely use the nearby supermarket. It’s sad.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’ve replaced one big business with another by opting for Riverford over the supermarket. The difference is, is that Riverford Organics is a certified B Corporation, meaning that it is an ethical business striving to benefit people and the planet over profit. Naturally I would encourage people to support local businesses first, but where this is difficult, choose the most ethical option you can.

Our first box is scheduled to be delivered next Thursday and I plan on writing up my first impressions of the quality and value for money of the box when it arrives. I’m really hoping that it will also inspire some kitchen creativity as we have become stuck in something of a vegetable rut recently – first world problems eh!

 

 

Just as an additional note, I am in no way affiliated with Riverford Organic Farmers and plan to shop around and try out other B Corp veg box suppliers.

High Days, Holidays, Simple and Slow Days

‘Tottie! You don’t know how beautiful Silverdale is and a tower of our own! Think of that! its a sort of country you never saw before. I’ll answer for it.’
(Elizabeth Gaskell in a letter to Eliza Fox, May 1852)

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In her letter, Elizabeth Gaskell was writing of Lindeth Tower in Silverdale, and a more beautiful and dreamy spot you will struggle to spy. On our many walks in the area we have often passed the tower and admired it, little thinking that one day we might stay there. But, stay there we did.

Built in 1842 by the Fleetwood family – a shipping family, who gave their name to the Port of Fleetwood- as a summer house and folly, the stone tower sits in a beautiful walled garden with panoramic views over the coast; presumably a means by which the family could keep a close and careful eye on their ships while on summer retreat. Silverdale became a favourite holiday destination for Elizabeth Gaskell and her family (her daughters Meta & Julia are described as ‘enthusiasts for Silverdale’ whereas her daughter Marianne  less so). There are numerous mentions of Lindeth Tower and Silverdale in Gaskell’s letters, some describe the activities the family undertake (farming and country pursuits), some include descriptions concerning the quirks of their accommodation; i.e having to walk across a courtyard in all weathers when transferring a leg of mutton from the larder to the kitchen, and then others including this one; in which she describes the tower thus:

‘In the garden, half flower half kitchen is an old square tower, or ‘Peel’ – a remnant of the Border towers.’

That Gaskell thought the tower to be so old, speaks of its dreamy, fairy-tale quality. Especially when one considers, that when she wrote those lines to Charles Eliot Norton in 1858, the tower was in fact only 16 years old. It seems that the romance of the place captured her imagination and so she transported it to another place and time. I completely understand how she felt, the tower wove a spell over me too. There is something folkloric about it, one could easily imagine border skirmishes or daring deeds having occurred there or indeed it featuring in one of Sir Walter Scott’s ballads. It feels like a place outside reality, a liminal space in which a great change can occur. That change of course being one in the heart, mind and soul.

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As a place to stay the tower is simply stunning. Each morning we breakfasted on the roof terrace, and in the evenings we curled up in the cosy sitting room with a book, a roaring fire and a glass of wine. By day we walked. Silverdale is beautiful and is a designated ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’; the landscape always strikes me as magical and otherworldly as it shifts smoothly from twee country lanes to woodlands and then just as seamlessly to rugged coast. It’s a wonderful place to slow down and be present, to enjoy the simple things like walking and soaking up the wonderful scenery. It’s a place to press pause and breathe.

Silverdale village is relatively small but does have a lovely hostelry, The Silverdale Hotel, where of course food and a libation can be purchased. In nearby Arnside; a slightly larger destination, there are more places to eat and drink, some little shops selling pretty gifts etc and a small art gallery. There is of course Arnside Tower to see and of course, no visit is complete without a walk on the Knott.

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Next time we hope to stay longer. My beloved and I both noted that as lovely as it was to walk extensively, it would have been just as lovely to spend the day reading and relaxing in the tower and gardens. We had also planned a visit to Cartmel Priory but ran out of time, so plan to do this during our next stay.

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To close -as I began- I cite Elizabeth Gaskell once more, who can say in a few words what I could not in a thousand:
‘…..we all go to our dear old Silverdale on the borders of Morecambe Bay, to run wild there…’

Living the Good Life : Going Natural

reworkLike most people I am super conscious of doing my best to care for the environment, and over the years have addressed some of my less Eco friendly habits and made a number of simple changes to my lifestyle. Particularly when it comes to cleaning materials. In themselves these changes aren’t dramatic; just little tweaks here and there but I’ve always felt that if we all make little changes it is far better than a few people going all out. Don’t get me wrong, I am filled with admiration for those who live a completely natural and zero waste lifestyle, but I also realise that ingrained habits and fear of change can make such a huge life adaptation seem insurmountable. Not to mentioned the perceived expense of an Eco lifestyle. I am quite a thrifty person by nature and loathe waste – a habit I learned at the knee of my maternal Grandparents and great Aunt, who were very much of the make do and mend generation.

If like me, ‘speed clean with me’ videos on Youtube are a guilty pleasure, then you will also be aware of the sheer volume of different cleaning products these guys and gals employ to ensure their homes sparkle like a new pin. I watch with a fascinated horror as they mix and match the various chemical laden products; each of them sporting a different synthetic perfume – it makes me cough just thinking about it. The truth of the matter is you don’t need very much to keep your house clean and smelling fresh.

A simple mix of distilled water, bicarbonate of soda and a few drops of essential oils (peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender and lemon are all antibacterial) makes an effective cleaner for kitchens and bathrooms and will leave the room smelling heavenly. Borax added to water can be used to remove mold and mildew, and pure soap flakes dissolved in a little hot water can be used in place of commercially bought washing up liquid

Likewise, My favourite cleaner for the hob and oven is a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda, the pulp from our home-made lemonade and a spritz of white vinegar or lemon juice. There is something incredibly satisfying about how the bicarb fizzes when the lemons and juice/vinegar are added – mad scientist vibes abound! Once my potion is applied I walk away and let it do it’s thing for while, then just wipe it off with a clean cloth.
Speaking of cloths; I have to admit I have fallen prey to the lure of brightly coloured and patterned microfibre cloths in the past. It is regrettable given that they constantly shed microplastics into the environment when in use but even more so when being laundered. I intend to use them until they get too tatty but rather than replacing them with new ones I’ve earmarked some bath towels that are looking past best that I will cut down to make new cloths. In the meantime I’m going to invest in a ‘Guppy Friend’, which is a wash bag that you place all your synthetics in that prevents the microplastics entering the environment. A guppy friend is a good purchase for washing all your Yoga and fitness wear in too, as these types of garment being made mainly of synthetic fabrics tend to be one of the worst offenders.

When it comes to clothes, know your materials – buy good quality natural fabrics. Firstly they tend to last longer but also wash and wear better. Fabrics to look out for are cotton, linen (sometimes called flax), ramie, viscose, silk and wool/cashmere – I know the last three are a controversial suggestion if you are vegan, however if you are purchasing these materials pre-loved (95% of my clothing is pre-loved) I personally think it is better to buy those than buy synthetics like polyester, acrylic and nylon. Synthetic fabrics should be no go because of the aforementioned release of microplastics. When you consider that a 6kg load of synthetic fabrics releases around 700,000 microplastic fibres into the environment it really gives you pause for thought.

As if our clothes releasing microplastics wasn’t bad enough just scan your laundry detergent many of those also contain them too, in fact many commercial cleaning products do and are terribly damaging to wildlife and the environment. Try soapnuts in your laundry instead. They are completely natural, can be composted and can be used a couple of times before they are depleted of their natural saponins. If you miss your clothes being scented add a couple of drops of essential oil to the fabric softener compartment instead of the aforementioned softener. We’ve tried everything from tried and tested lavender to not so conventional star anise in our laundry and love both. Peppermint and eucalyptus is a lovely combination too.

In coming weeks I will be sharing more of the recipes for our home-made cleaning products and possibly make a Youtube video on the subject too.

Love and Light

Stella

Foraging and Making: My First Attempt at Crab Apple Jelly

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Last Sunday while out on our walk through the forest my partner and I decided to visit one of our favourite foraging spots. In addition to being incredibly pretty it is also replete with Elder, Blackthorn and most importantly at this time of year, a sizeable crab apple tree.

To our delight the crab apple tree has an abundance of ripe fruit this year. We collected about a kilo of fruit, leaving behind a feast on the tree for wildlife and other foragers to enjoy.

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Usually I use crab apples to make blackberry and apple jam. The high level of pectin in them ensures a good set without the need for adding a specialist jam sugar. This year however I decided to give making crab apple jelly a go instead. I could see in my minds eye as we gathered the fruit, jars filled with gorgeous clear jewel toned luciousness.

Unfortunately it hasn’t been a resounding successs. The amount of jelly is far less than I would have hoped and is very cloudy. In my haste to get going I didn’t pay enough attention to the recipe and suspect that I cooked the apples in too little water and for far too long.  After leaving the mixture to strain through a jelly bag there was so little liquid that squeezing the mixture to get every last little bit liquid out was my only option. As a result the liquid was very cloudy and not the jewel like clarity I was dreaming of.

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Being cloudy already I decided to throw caution to the wind and add a teaspoon of ground ginger, added sugar and heated the mix up until it was at setting point. There being such a small quantity it didn’t seem worth sterilising a jar, so i’ve decanted the jelly into a small bowl and plan to use it up over the next couple of days.

I’m hoping that it will make a nice accompaniment to bread and cheese (or to some ‘Gary’ for my vegan days) or maybe giving my breakfast porridge an extra zing by adding a spoonful.It seems I’m big on options but alas low on jelly. That being said, nothing is wasted. I’ve learnt a new skill and with some tweaks it will be better next time. But for now, i’m going to savour every mouthful of the little I have and enjoy it.

If anyone out there has more experience of jelly making and could give me few pointers it would be great to hear from you!