Monday, 30 September 2013

Tomato glut

Between our (much belated) wedding reception this past weekend, and the work on the house, my tomatoes have been pretty neglected.  It has been dry here which means I've not had my usual bucket of rain water to use, and the garage is a disaster zone of building materials meaning the hose is ridiculously difficult to get to (the tap was repositioned into the garage by my husband who said it would be better for washing the car.  Has he washed the car at our house? Not once).

Well, it seems that the neglect has paid off, because yesterday I noticed I had quite a few tomatoes ripe for picking and man did I ever.  How gorgeous do they look?

The sunshine was fantastic as well.  We took a big walk and then sat in the back garden soaking up the rays.  Delicious. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Wholesome Food - Bean and Chorizo Stew

Several years ago, I ate in a restaurant on a date, and my date ordered a stew that contained beans and chorizo (the stew was amazing, the date was ... well I can't remember and that can't be a good sign).  It's a standard combination, but for whatever reason, no matter how many recipes I tried, nothing really got it right for me... until one day a friend of mine posted this  recipe on Facebook.  It has beans and chorizo, so I used it as the foundation for my stew.

Serves 4 (unless you're feeding my husband)

200-300 grams of chorizo - not the fresh stuff, the normal stuff that you can eat straight from the package (my Tesco sells them in 225 gram packages so that's what I use)
1 large onion
2-3 tins of chopped tomatoes (depending on how meaty you want the stew to be)
1 tin butter beans (or beans of your choosing, but butters are so fabulous in stews)
1 tin berlotti beans (or beans of your choosing)
1-2 bell peppers
Kale (because I like to put it in anything, but this is optional)
Greens (fresh salad greens -not lettuce- like spinach or mustard are great)
As many cloves of garlic as you like - I usually use about 4

Chop the chorizo.  I cut mine small because I tend to go heavier on the veggie ingredients so like to have lots of little pieces of chorizo throughout.  Fry it (I do this without oil because I think it has enough oil in it, you judge what you like) in a stew pot/large heavy pan for a few minutes, to release the oil.  In the meantime, dice the onion and smash/dice the garlic.  Once the chorizo has greased the pan, add in your onion and cook until translucent.

Once the chorizo and onion are all all mellowed together, add in your tins of tomato and your garlic.  At this point I put on the lid and let everything cook together for at least 20 minutes, until the flavours have mellowed out.

Once you're happy it's cooked long enough, drain and wash the beans and add them in.  Simmer, uncovered, until the beans absorb the flavours and the stew thickens up.  This will take about 20-30 minuets.

Finally, when everything is the desired consistency, chop up the bell peppers and add them in, cooking for just a few minutes.  I add these at the end so they heat through but don't go soft.  If you prefer them cooked, then add earlier.  At this point, turn off the heat and add in the kale (stems removed, ripped into bit-sized pieces) and at the last minute, the salad greens.  Gently fold in the salad greens, and serve immediately.  Add more greens to the top of each dish if you like.

Serve with chunky toasty bread rubbed in garlic.  Yum. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Under Construction

My house is currently under construction.  This means a number of things:

1. It's cold.  It wasn't so bad a few weeks ago, but now it's getting uncomfortable.  The entire back wall of our house has been removed for an extension, and up until yesterday the only thing between us and the elements was some OSB (plywood to non-timber folk), some hastily tacked up leftover insulation, and black plastic (as seen in the picture).  Yesterday the guys put in a temporary frame (what you see in the pic will eventually be glass) so it should be getting better.

2. It's cramped.  The extension is for our kitchen, and means that as a result of internal framing, our kitchen is missing about 1/4 of its original width and I can't open any of the drawers for the pots and pans, so everything's sitting on the counter.  So, in addition to being cramped, it's messy.

3. It's dark.  Several windows have been removed to make what will ultimately be a really awesome light trap, but without the windows, it's just dark and dreary.

We've had a lot of delays - half of the windows were meant to be going in this week.  We're now being told the end of October for the whole lot.  We've had mishaps - pieces being incorrectly sized.  

At first it was ok, fun, even.  We were planning what the new kitchen space would be, how we wanted to construct our new kitchen island without breaking the bank, the whole lot.  Now, it's less fun.  Our (super belated) wedding reception is next weekend and our house is a building site. 

All of the above aren't really conducive to taking pictures of food (here's a camera phone picture of dimly lit food in a messy kitchen! Enticing!) or being very creative with it.  

I'll add pictures to past recipes as I can take them, and will get back on the wagon in terms of posting as soon as the house is less miserable. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Wholesome Food - Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta in a Tomato Sauce

August/September time is when the tomatoes start ripening in my area.  In previous years the weather has been pretty terrible and I haven't ever really had enough ripen at once to do anything really proper with them... other than just eat them as is, of course. 

This year has been an amazing summer.  Hands down the best one since I've been in Scotland, which is 7 (!!) years.  The tomatoes, and the garden in general, have responded happily.

So, this leaves me needing to use up tomatoes at every possible occasion (poor me, right?), and the result has been pretty cool.  I'm either making up dishes or turning to the delights of Google to give me inspiration.  We have eaten very well these past few weeks, and last night was no exception.

In this weekend's shop, I grabbed a cauliflower.  My husband asked why and I told him I'd figure it out later.  I'm so glad I did. 

Yesterday I googled "tomato and cauliflower" and found a few really amazing sounding recipe ideas.  I decided on the Kitchn's Pan-Roasted Cauliflower & Pasta with Tomato-Cream Sauce, with a few modifications.

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower 
Pasta - I used about 4 handfuls of whole wheat fusili
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes - 6 large or more if they're small - or if you can't be bothered, just make it two tins of chopped tomatoes
4 pieces of smoked back bacon - this is UK bacon and it's bigger than bacon in the US.  If you're using streaky/US bacon, I'd probably use 6 pieces.
1 medium/large onion - I used yellow
3 cloves garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes
Fresh basil, to serve

My primary modification to the Kitchn's recipe was the fact that I used fresh, home-grown tomatoes in place of one of the tins of tomatoes. 

I grabbed my ripest tomatoes, tossed them in olive oil, and stuck them on a baking sheet in the (fan assisted) oven at about 150C until the skins split and started to go brown, about 30 minutes.
Once they cooled a bit, I removed the skins and piled them into my mini-blender, before blitzing them smooth.  If you decide to just use two tins of chopped tomatoes, I would still blitz one of them.  It makes the sauce a bit creamier.

Here's another modification - I used bacon instead of pancetta.  I just wanted to use what I had in the house and I pretty much always have bacon in the house.  Pancetta, not so much.

While the tomatoes are roasting, crisp up the bacon in the pan where you're going to assemble everything (this is important).  I needed to add in a little olive oil to get it started, and set it aside once it was ready.

While the bacon's crisping, chop up your cauliflower into smallish bite-sized pieces. 

Here's where it gets amazing/bad - once the bacon is done, whack up the heat on your pan and toss in the cauliflower (be careful of sparking oil when you do this).  You're going to cook your cauliflower in the bacon fat.  Ooh yeah.  Now I should remind you that I'm in the UK so there isn't a HUGE amount of bacon grease in the pan.  It's just a bit more oil then I would use if I was only using olive oil.  Just include however much grease you want to, and if you want to be super healthy, roast the cauliflower in the oven instead.

Leave the cauliflower undisturbed for about a minute, until the bottoms start to brown up.  Stir, and leave again.  Keep doing this for about 5 minutes - I like my veggies pretty firm, so if you prefer yours soft, then cook for about 8-10 minutes.  

The smell of roasting cauliflower is amazing - almost nutty.  Don't write off cauliflower until you've had it roasted, it is NOTHING like steamed.  Seriously.

bacon-cauliflower goodness
Once the cauliflower's done, set it aside to chill out for a minute.

Finally, dice up your onion and put it in the same pan everything's cooked in, with a glug of olive oil if the pan's dry.  Cook until translucent, then add in your pureed roast tomatoes, your tin of tomatoes, your garlic and chilli flakes.  Let these all bubble away and reduce a bit together for a couple of minutes, before you finally get your pasta cooking.   

Shortly before the pasta's ready, tear up your bacon into the sauce, and add in the cauliflower.  Salt if necessary.  Finally add in your cooked pasta and stir to combine. 

Serve topped with cheese and basil.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Experimenting with Natural Deodorants - part 2

So in part 1 of this post, I talked about my motivation behind wanting to switch from antiperspirants (ap) to a more natural deodorizing solution.

I tried Tom's of Maine and thought it worked great.  But, because I like concocting things in my kitchen, I decided to try making my own.

If you do a search for home made deodorant you will come up with a LOT of people talking about their experiences.  You will also see a lot of the same ingredients listed:

Coconut oil - if the internet is right, this stuff is basically magic
Baking soda/bicarbonate of soda - have you ever put it in a dish in your fridge to keep it  from         getting smelly?  Same idea.
Cornstarch/arrowroot powder - some people say this is a thickener, but they will also act by absorbing some of the moisture
Essential oils - if you want to scent your concoction

I'm in pretty early stages of experimentation.

I have read a lot about how the baking soda causes irritation - especially if this is put on right after shaving. 

Protip: shave at night.  I shower in the morning but I'll give myself a quick shave at night so my skin has time to heal before putting on the baking soda in the morning.

I used a small empty plastic hand balm container for this, which I put into a pan of boiling water so I could eat and mix everything in its final resting place.  I learned quickly not to use my measuring cup for these type of experiments.

My container fits about 1.8 oz and in it I've put:

1/2 teaspoon of  baking soda 
1 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch
(about) 15 drops of tea tree essential oil (it's antibacterial so will combat smell)
3 grams shea butter (for a bit more stability than just using coconut oil alone)
2 tablespoons coconut oil 

I melted the oil and shea butter together, took the mixture off the heat and added in the powders and the essential oil. 

So far I've had no irritation, but I find the prescribed "pea sized" amount to be too much, creating a very oily surface, so I use less.  I also find that I do get a bit smelly by the end of the day, but if I don't put my shirt directly into the wash, the smell will be gone by the next day.

Next time I plan to add in a bit more of a stabilizer - maybe some beeswax, and up the amounts of baking soda and cornstarch. 

For now, though, my mixture is totally fine for days I'm not in work but if I'm going to have a bit more of a high-stress day, I'm sticking with the Toms.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wholesome Food - Quinoa and Chickpea Salad

Recently I was on the lookout for a good, hearty salad.  A salad that included carrots.

I grow carrots, specifically I've chosen to grow (along with the orange ones) purple carrots.  Did you know that carrots were not traditionally orange?  They were bred that way by the Dutch.  Purple carrots have more antioxidants than the orange ones, and generally look cooler anyway.

The carrots above were still pretty young when I took this picture, but you get the idea (see the two less-cool looking orange ones hiding in there too).  They're purple on the outside, and orange on the inside, and a friend of mine commented randomly one day that they must look really cook when you shave them - orange and purple stripey.

That comment became the basis for this "recipe" if you can call a salad a recipe.

I like to use:

Kale (curly and as fresh as possible)
Cherry tomatoes
Sharp cheddar
Balsamic vinegar

The first few times I made this I used fresh peas as well, but those are past their season now and I really just threw them in to use up the last few pods.

I'm pretty bad with giving people amounts to use, but here's a rough guide that you can fiddle with as you please:

For 4-6 side salads, or one main with 3 lunches

1 tin of Chickpeas -  drained and washed
1/2 -1 cup (uncooked) quinoa -  I like to cook it in chicken broth
4 strips of smoked bacon - cooked crispy and crumbled into the salad
1-2 large leaves of kale - remove the stems and tear the leaves into small to medium sized pieces
3-4 carrots, with their tops (depending on size and just how much carrot you want to use) - wash them well and then use a vegetable peeler to peel strips off the carrot into the salad.  The carrot tops are useful when doing this because it gives you something to hold onto, but it's not imperative.

Toss these all together, add in avocado, tomatoes and cucumber until it looks good to you.  At this point I add in a small amount of finely grated sharp cheddar.  It gives it a good zing which compliments the sweetness of the carrots.  Glug in balsamic to suit.  No oil is needed, and while you could use other vinegar, I think balsamic really suits the flavours.

This salad is crazy good.  I made it for a friend who is obsessed with salads and makes them constantly, and she told me it was the best salad she had ever had.  No joke.  It's earthy, and sweet, and a little salty, and tangy, and super healthy and filling.  Crazy yum.  

The first time I made this I thought it was gorgeous - greens, reds, purples, white/yellow - a true rainbow on a plate.  I took a picture and, frankly, the picture looks awful.  I tried playing with Picassa to make it look cool and arty but there's no saving it.  I'll upload one when I can get a good shot. 

Experimenting with Natural Deodorants - part 1

 When my mom was receiving radiation for her breast cancer, her doctor told her to stop wearing antiperspirant and to only wear cornflower.  I had heard a number of times that the aluminum (or aluminium, depending on what audience I'm speaking to) in antiperspirant wasn't good for us, and the fact that a doctor told a cancer patient to stop using it spent my spidey senses tingling.

In subsequent trawling of the internet, I read that the aluminum can interfere with radiation (something about the beam, I believe?) so the advice that my mom got was theoretically not based on health, just on the basic workings of the radiation she was receiving.

It seems that there have been loads of studies looking for a link between breast cancer and antiperspirant and, thus far, no clear link has been defined.

I've pulled up a couple of articles here and here.

Then a friend of mine with kidney problems posted in Facebook saying that HER doc had advised her to stop wearing antiperspirant.  Now to be fair, I haven't read up on this at all and haven't asked her why.  But, these two instances got me reading.

We're meant to sweat.  Sweating cools us off and is part of how the body releases toxins.  Why are some people more sweaty than others?  I don't know.  What I DO know is that the kind of antiperspirant that most of us use hasn't really been used by people long enough for scientists to really have a completely accurate view on whether it's 100% safe for us.

I'm starting to come to the realization that there are a *lot* of chemicals in our daily lives that even our parents' generation didn't have around, and ultimately it's not going to do us any harm to take steps towards reducing the number of chemicals that we come in contact with daily.  

So I started experimenting.

I started off by buying Tom's of Maine Calendula deodorant.  Interestingly, I sweated buckets for the first couple of days off the antiperspirant but then my sweating died down.  I've always been pretty sweaty -even wearing ap I would sweat through tops- so this was a pleasant surprise.
I also smelled less.  With ap, I would wear a shirt once and then throw it in the wash, I could smell the ap but also the undertone of stinky sweat.  On the Toms, I could smell a little swear but it wasn't stinky and it was really just a slight undertone to the lovely smell of the deodorant.


From Tom's, I moved onto home made stuff where I could have complete control over what was going on my skin.  More on that in part 2.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Carrots and Baths

Did you know that carrot fly can only fly at a certain height?

I have no idea what height that is, but basically the theory is that carrots are best put into raised containers to that they're protected from carrot fly.  Plus, then you have better control over the type of soil they're grown in.

So, in the spirit of upcyling and preserving some of the history of our house, when we ripped out the old bathroom, we kept the old cast iron bath:

We even kept the taps!
It makes a really awesome planter for anything because it also keeps out the slugs and snails.

For drainage, and so we didn't have to use a huge amount of topsoil to fill it, we put broken bricks in the bottom of the bath, covered them with sand, and then filled up with topsoil.  In the first year we split it between salad greens and carrots, and the salad survived the Great Slug and Snail Massacre of 2012 completely untouched.  But, we loved the carrots so much it's all carrots now. 

Now, this thing is HEAVY.  It's cast iron, filled with bricks, sand and soil.  There was NO moving this thing.  Until we realised that it was in the way of the forklift for our extension...

Fortunately, the guys doing our extension are awesome.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Hippy Questing

So, I've started a hippy quest. 

The irony of this is the fact that I'm from Berkeley, CA (aka, in contention for being the hippy capital of the world) and as a result I've always talked about "dirty hippies" with a bad taste in my mouth.
I now now that what I wasn't keen on was the 'tude, and not the lifestyle.

I dig the lifestyle.

It started when we bought our house.

We have a big garden in which we're growing fruit a vegetables, and every year we're learning new things about what we want to eat, what we grow well, and what's more trouble than it's worth (sorry, onions).

We have a greenhouse, though we soon plan to upgrade (or downgrade, if you're my in laws) to a polytunnel.  The polytunnel will be much less likely to explode due to an errant football/baseball/anything that our as yet non-existent children will decide to throw. 

Greenhouse!  It's full of tomatoes.  Also, kale and poppies!
We want chickens.  A lot.  We will absolutely get chickens once we are a bit more established and once the garden is a bit more setup.

We want bees.  Save the bees, man!  I am much more interested in growing stuff I can eat than stuff that just looks pretty, but I also really like bees.  Fortunately for me the bees really like the stuff that's easiest to grow and I have plans for a wildflower meadow at the back of the garden, around the fruit trees.  As a hay fever sufferer, I love the health benefits of local honey, and I also use beeswax in a number of my hippy potions, so I'd really like to find out more about beekeeping. 

We also have a house, obviously.  We bought it from a woman in her 90s who had lived there for 30+ years, and you had better believe it was decorated exactly how you're picturing it.  We ripped out a lot of psychedelic carpeting, steamed a lot of crazy wallpaper, knocked down walls, built other walls, rewired, replumbed, moved rooms, painted, sanded, varnished, insulated and found ourselves with a pretty cool home.

We put solar panels on the roof.  We've only had them one summer, but so far so green.

We bought a woodburning stove, with a view towards putting in a masonry stove in a few years when a) they become DEFRA approved (it's a no-go on smoke where we live)
b) we can work out how to integrate the masonry stove in with solar panels for year-round green water heating.  Of course by "we" I totally mean my guy, because he's the engineer in this family.

We make beer.  Well, I make beer.  Husband helps drink it.  

We make bread.  Again, this is more or a royal we.

I think I could get used to this whole "hippy lifestyle" business. 

Healthy eating on the cheap - this week's revelation

I hate wasting food.  I hate buying something and then either not using all of it before it goes off or, more commonly in my household, the fridge freezes it (we really need to get a refrigerator that doesn't freeze produce and yet somehow manage to leave the drinks warm).

In order to combat that, we used to make a list of meals for the week and do a big "weekly shop" at our nearest big grocery store.  Then we discovered the the Lidl nearest to our house is actually really quite good.  The problem with Lidl is that you can't walk in with a list and expect to be able to buy everything on it, they just don't have that kind of selection and a lot of the freshest food changes often. 

This week we did a version of the weekly shop in Lidl.  I still had a list of a few essentials that we were out of, but didn't have a weekly meal plan so concocted food plans as we walked through the aisles. 

I always thought that you could limit waste live more economically if you plan meals.  The problem with planning meals is that you have to think days in advance of what you might want to eat and, if you're me, you often end up making the same types of foods week on week.  These foods are good but it's nice to mix it up a bit.  

Amazingly this week's shop in Lidl, topped up with a few mid-week items from Tesco, came to about £35.  This covered the two of us for lunches and dinners and (due to us often buying lunches at work) ended up being nearly half of what we would normally spend on food in a week. 

Now, we did eat a lot of produce from the garden, but veggies tend to be the cheapest part of a weekly shop anyway so even if we had purchased everything I can't see it being that much more expensive.

This week saw me creating two new dishes that were super easy and healthy, which I'll post on here. 

Thumbs up to the Lidl shop. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

This year, 2013, has been pretty full on in terms of health/body type stuff (and it's not even over yet):

I went off birth control
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer
I got pregnant
I miscarried
I gained weight
I got acne for the first time since I was a teenager.
My mom got a really awesome doctor and breezed through her operation and radiation

All of the above got my brain ticking.

I was already into food.  I love food passionately and will never ever be able to diet because, in my (not so) humble opinion, I'm actually pretty darn good at making food and really really enjoy eating it too.  Lots of eating of the food.

Along with this love of food came a garden, a big garden.  Have you ever eaten a carrot out of someone's garden?  It's insane.  You have no idea what a carrot tastes like if you've never picked and eaten one.  Peas too. Wow.  These things are so sweet and amazing that I almost can't bear to cook them. 

I had never eaten kale until I grew it.  I grew it because my father in law brought me a bunch of seedlings he didn't have space for, and it was one of the only brassicas that survived the caterpillar and slug onslaught of 2012.  I now do my best to work kale into as much of my cooking a possible.

I've totally digressed from my point.  My point is that I was already into healthy living and eating, but the events from the start of 2013 shook me into starting to look at other ways I could live a more healthy and wholesome life.   

So, because the world obviously needs another blog about food/life/healthy living, here I am.  In case you're interested.