Back to the birds.

Its been a while, but now the ravenous winged insects have died down I am once again trudging along the gravelly paths to sit in the hides of my local nature reserve.  And boy have I missed it.

So without further ado a few of my latest snaps. One of the most difficult of all of the birds to photograph at this reserve, a cetti’s warbler. It has taken on nearly a mythical status, mainly because it is so noisy and so you always know it is around and so quick. By the time one has focussed their camera onto the area it might be hidden in the reeds,  it has gone.  I think this is my best yet.  A reed bunting enjoying a wonderful feast of seeds.Along with a black bird gorging on the hawthorn berries.A water rail popped out just for a second.And I saw a heron lifting off.And two cormorants watching the low flying aircraft.

It was a wonderful day in bright winter sunshine, cold and bright, just the way I like it.

Going plant based.

I have flirted with vegetarianism since I was 15, having long spells, the longest was three years where I’ve stopped eating meat. It was only from bringing up two stocky lads and a hubby who were confirmed carnivores that has interrupted me drifting back into it full time.  In the meantime I have  been flirting with lots of meatless Mondays along with high carb, low fat plant based meals and many vegan dishes have all been consumed with gusto.

I am into week two of a completely vegan diet. I won’t ever say I’ll become completely vegan, (although never say never!) I love to knit with wool and wear leather shoes, I think both of those occupations would prevent one from wearing the vegan hat, let alone some vegans feel that pet ownership is the wrong way to go, but I can honestly say I love the plant based diet and feel very happy in that space at the moment.

Hubby is quite happy to trundle along with his omnivore diet and cherry pick my plant based delights, some how my coconut yoghurt, medjool dates and Vego chocolate and hazelnut bar (have you tried them, they are delicious!) have all happily disappeared into his tum.  It has got to the point that I know that I am going to have to share, so even though hubby was eating a beef sandwich for his lunch I made enough Sushi for two – we scoffed the lot it was delicious. I followed Yo Sushi’s recipe for dressing the rice, although I do tend to be a bit heavier handed on the vinegar than they are and made my sushi with cucumber, red pepper and spring onions, with the usual dipping sauce of wasabi, light soy and pickled ginger.  I can see it becoming a regular lunch time dish, bearing in mind its the second time I’ve made it in two weeks, so it must be good.

My plan is to keep to plant based for two months and then have a think about where I am, it will be interesting to find out.


Our New Baby.

I am so sorry about the lack of posting on the blog, but truth be told, mostly we have been shattered – but in a good way.  It has been fifteen years since we have had a new baby in the house and although the memory comes back as to what needs doing, we are a bit older and stamina is not what it was, which all sounds rather grand doesn’t it, especially when it is only a puppy. But a puppy it is, may I introduce Rupert, our Whippet puppy who brings us much joy. This is Rupert, a week older than when he joined us and finding his feet in the business of running and sprinting. He is such a happy fellow, eats like a pig, sleeps as much as possible, possibly the best companion one could ever wish for, apart from that mad half hour a few times a day where you have to watch everything… its manic, but we do love him so., especially then. It is lovely to have a dog about the place again, it has been such a long time and hubby seems completely energised by it. And who wouldn’t be by such a pretty and loving dog. This time we are crate training, something I have always steered clear off, but as I said that was fifteen years ago, this time with Rupert, first night in his crate, with a big fluffy feather filled pillow, our new to us puppy fell fast asleep in his crate and didn’t wake until 8.30 a.m. and was clean, (our golden retriever eight week old  on the first night fifteen years ago seemed to poop out a whole puppies worth) we took this as a sign and I have to say he has been a dream boat. The only trouble I have had was when I moved his crate from the kitchen to the hall, the kitchen being an icebox in the winter and the hall being the cozy centre of the home, Rupert was a little bit distressed, it has to be said, so I sat with him, for an hour and chatted away, as you do, and then he stretched out and fell fast asleep until the next morning. We’ve just had November the fifth, he slept right through, so pleased he did, we know too well how distressed a dog can get.  Welcome to our new member of our family, we do love him so. (not sure the cats do! )

A simple shallot tarte tatin served with goats cheese.

I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time and never got around to it but finally having a handful of shallots languishing in my veg trolley I thought I would give it a go.

Firstly I peeled and halved my shallots and found I had just enough to cover the bottom of a cake tin, not having an oven proof handle on a small frying pan I thought it was the next best thing.  I put that on a low heat on my cooker and let the shallots slowly, oh so slowly colour and soften in a very generous amount of butter and the merest sprinkle of dried thyme,  turning them once and then once more so the cut side ended up on the bottom and then at the end sprinkling a little balsamic vinegar in to add a touch of piquancy.
In the meantime I made a rough approximation on a rough puff pastry, I can’t remember the exact recipe, it was half fat to flour in this case butter and the flour was half whole wheat  to give it a little bite and half plain white,  enough ice cold water to bind and I half rubbed so leaving big lumps and then folded it three times, turned, rolled it out again folded it in three again, turned and then again and left it to chill. I should have chilled it in between each rolling to get more layering and a better rough puff, but domestic kitchens who are hungry for lunch have been known to cut the odd corner.

Covered the shallots with the pastry which I had rolled out to be a fraction larger than the circle of the tin to allow me to tuck the pastry down the sides and then washed the pastry with a little milk and popped it in a hot 180 c oven for about 40 minutes.

When it came out, I slipped a knife around, turned it out, replaced the bits of shallot that had stuck to the bottom of the cake tin and allowed it to cool down a little while I cut up some goats cheese and called hubby for lunch.It was a gorgeous lunch, we quickly dived in for a second piece. The true art of the home cook, economy and comfort illustrated in a simple shallot tarte tatin.

Crown Prince and Pea Risotto.

Mr Betts from Coventry Market delivers a veg box to me, the price and freshness of Coventry Market without the heavy lugging of the vegetables home, its a wonderful idea and works well. Last week I asked for a good sized Crown Prince (as well as a marrow) and found this beauty arriving on my doorstep. Isn’t it splendid.  As I used the more delicate items first this sat in my veg trolly and I pondered the possibilities of which there were many, maybe a pasta dish, maybe ravioli, the base of a curry or a pastie or a pie?  But then I noticed a nub of parmesan that needed using up so the idea of a risotto was born. Cutting it open reveals a glorious orange flesh.  I love the flavour of Crown Prince and years ago  grew them on my allotment with them keeping well in storage all winter. Half of the pumpkin sliced up and drizzled with a little oil to go into a hot oven for three quarters of an hour until the slices were burnished with gold and sticky bits and tender in the centre. In the meantime I prepared the risotto. Slicing the shallots which were also in the box and sweating them gently until darkly golden, then adding the chopped garlic and rice and allowing the rice to toast for a few minutes. Next I added a small bottle of Babycham giving me a blast of an alcoholic perry sauna. I boiled the alcohol off and then started to add the stock one hot ladleful at a time whilst stirring the risotto almost continuously. By this time it was the moment to rescue the pumpkin from the oven. I continued with the risotto until it was almost done, adding the peas and parmesan – saving a little cheese for garnish and then removed the flesh from the skin by the spoonful and adding it to the pan, one big mix and it was done. Serving with purple sprouting another delicious vegetable from Mr Betts which had been boiled and then the colour set with cold water so was more of a salad vegetable and then spritzed with balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of sesame oil.   I must tell you it was the best risotto I have ever eaten, and one I will be making again and again.

And she is back in the room.

Its nice to be back, I’ve missed writing and putting my thoughts and deeds to paper, but things got a bit crazy busy and then I had a big bout of illness which was a little bit too close to a serious lung infection for my liking.  I’m much better now, just in the recovery section of the illness, not really getting around as much as I should as I still feel a little rough and am clearing my airways, but it is all going in the right direction and that is all any of us can ever hope for.

What has been going on?, just domesticity really.  Getting things ready for winter, the chimney has been swept and I have a full bunker of smokeless coal and a collection of scented candles.  I have finally finished putting a full bar together as the boys slowly but surely over the years managed to drink all of the malt whisky and anything else they could get their hands on.  It is good to have a fully stocked bar again, one to dip into on a cold winters night when a nip of rum or brandy is just what is needed to ease the joints as they gently toast before glowing embers. I quite like having lots of choice on what to drink, my tea cabinet has been added to over the last few months, it now varies from the most delicate of white teas to the sultry darkness of flavourful assams.

Photographically I haven’t done so well.  Mid summer was just hell trying to shoot wildlife, I just couldn’t take any more horsefly or mosquito bites, so I gave it a rest for a month or so while I recovered.  As the temperature drops and the leaves change colour I can feel the call of the wild, it won’t be long before I am back fully togged up in hand knitted jumpers enjoying bright autumn and winter days again.

Knitting wise I am still battling against a frozen shoulder, but a jumper is slowly appearing from the needles and might just be finished before the end of October.  And then I have a big request to finish hubbys jumper which I must do, as well as turn up three pairs of wool trousers for him. One should never marry a seamstress or tailor, it is very similar to the saying ‘the cobblers children are worst shod’, one never quite gets around to doing those necessary sewing jobs.

So, let the domesticity, photography, mini adventures and cookery commence. 


Cake is in the house – Sticky Plum Flapjack Bars.

To be honest this was not a roaring success, although I did manage to rescue it. I found  Sticky Plum Flapjack Bars on the BBC Good Food website. Having followed the recipe and even popped it in the oven, I had a moment of clarity a few moments later and realised it was much too liquid to set so retrieved it out of the oven and bunged into the pan at least another 100g maybe 200g of oats and mixed them in until it looked right. It was only after I sat down with a coffee while it was cooking that I read the reviews to find others had had the same problems – always trust your instincts, much better to go with those than follow something to the letter and waste all of your ingredients.  Then I turned the oven down for two reasons, I was doing a double batch anyway so it would taken longer to cook, but with all the extra on top it risked burning the top before cooking through.

Firstly gather your fruits, an abundance of plums that my resident fruit bat wasn’t getting through as quickly as usual, so rather than waste them I thought I’d make him his sweet treat with them. Half and stone them and then roughly chop. And put into a bowl to macerate with some of the sugar and mixed spice.

Then make up your flap jack mix, layering half of the flap jack mix, then the plums, then the flapjack, well that’s what one would do in an ideal world. After cooking, having checked it as thoroughly as one can, cut it into even pieces and let it go completely cold in the pan.  Some people have even recommended with this recipe to pop it in the fridge to truly firm up.  I then popped half in the freezer for another time and left half in the fridge.What’s it like?  Well it is good actually, once it has firmed up, it has all the good things of a flap jack, the golden syrup, the butter, the crunchy bits, along with a softer almost cake like centre from the addition of the flour and plums. Interesting and quite satisfying, although one does only need a small piece as it is a stick to the ribs, that’ll get you through a hard 1950’s winter kind of fuel.


Jenny’s Tree.

Forever known as “Jenny’s Tree” well it is in my index system.. I’ve just been reminded about this, I put this in my instagram feed during January and my Canadian pal, who originates from the UK fell in love with it and asked for a copy. That vote of confidence came at just the right time, as a photographer I constantly doubt my work and when I see someone fall in love with something that I have photographed, well, it all becomes worth while. Thank you Jenny. xxx

Cake is in the house – Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake.

Yesterday amidst the chaos of cooking I somehow found enough time to grab a recipe off the net and use up the rest of the carrots all in one fell swoop.  The requirement was a very simple carrot cake that could be made in the blink of a very tired eye, and this recipe came up trumps. Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake by Mary Cadogan off the BBC Good Food website was simplicity itself to make, possibly a healthier version by using vegetable oil and is delicious and very moist to eat.  There is even a video to show you how easy, I’ve only just seen it, I completely missed the link yesterday.

The only changes I made, was I used baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda, you do need the extra lift even though you are using self raising flour, as you don’t have the creaming of butter and sugar which creates air and therefore lift in the cake.  I prefer the flavour of baking powder or rather should I say, I don’t like the flavour of bicarbonate of soda. It is alright if the recipe has enough acid in it to make sure all of the reaction has taken place but if it hasn’t neutralised and there hasn’t been enough acid it can leave one with a soapy metallic taste in the mouth. Often noticed in scones when the chef has just used milk instead of the acidic buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda, without really realising why one needs the buttermilk.  Also you will need more of the baking powder than the bicarbonate of soda, but as we were using self raising flour as well I didn’t think it was too crucial so just added the tip of a teaspoon extra.  I also changed the spices, surprisingly not having cinnamon or nutmeg in the cupboards as I’d done a big clear out of all the cupboards a couple of months ago and hadn’t replaced old stock, so I used mixed spice, which is basically cinnamon and nutmeg as well as cloves and other spices, it worked well and is much underrated as a store cupboard spice mix.As you can see my icing was a bit of a fail, it was a bit runny to do the drizzling, I could have added more icing sugar and spent a bit longer, but the lure of a gin and tonic which hubby was pouring, himself having only just got home after a long day was too strong. And as you can see it came out well, moist, light and delicious, what more do you want out of a cut and come again cake.

A cooking day.

Over the last ten days or so I’ve been rather focused on my photography and doing long days whenever I can, often to the detriment of our meal plan. You know things have got pretty bad when your contemplating a take out for the third time that week and your just too shattered after ten hours in a hide to stand peeling spuds.  So a new plan of action was required and yesterday seeing that it was going to be a rainy day all day today I sat down with my laptop and ordered all of the ingredients that I needed to get a few tasty and well balanced meals in the freezer. I made a long list, I knew it was ambitious, but hey, if you don’t try you’ll never know.

I bounced out of bed and put all the spuds I could find in the house on to boil, four rings of the cooker covered and a pressure cooker, made me realise just how little I cooked last week, and the week before.  I cooked them in the skin and when cool peeled them with the tip of a knife. I then did a Delia, I remember seeing this years ago but never tried it, and mashed them in the kenwood mixer with a cake beater.  It made them a bit gluey to be fair, but, they puffed up lovely in the oven, so I think it will be alright. I made three different types of potatoes, plain, french mustard and a colcannon version with buttery leeks.

Then the Tesco delivery man arrived and he brought it all into the kitchen, he said I’d made him hungry coming into the delicious potato smells, we laughed. Doesn’t that save you a job and a half, not only do you not have to do the slog around the supermarket, but they deliver it to your kitchen, so one has all the energy just to cook, its brilliant.

Getting some of the veg prepped that was lying in the fridge.  Normally we are veg freaks, hence why we had an allotment, so I do really miss them when I don’t get them – although I have to say I did have some coleslaw with one pizza, but I don’t think that really counts. I started with a beef and veg stew with a mustard mash.  The stew was started in the instantpot on the saute mode, then switched to pressure cook for half an hour, out came a perfectly savoury stew, heavy on the veg of course. I then made man sized cottage pies, I am looking forward to these, with a plain mash and a good dusting of parmesan.  Followed by two family sized fish pies with a cheese sauce, colcannon buttery leeks and potato mash and a good sprinkle of parmesan.  The fish included was smoked haddock, cod and salmon. And those two pies made eight portions. I then made a provencal type stew with chicken to have with rice. And then I made 15 veg bags,  of a variety of vegetables to have with the main courses. The vegetables are blanched until just done, and set with cold water.I then made a mandycharlie ragu sauce, heavy on the mushroom, I think these are two portion pots.
Next was a pork sweet and sour, again made from scratch, Chinese white vinegar, pineapple juice, (pineapple in the dish) tomato puree, sugar and soy sauce. That made six dishes and its simplicity itself to do rice in the instant pot.And then I made a carrot cake with a plain orange icing, I think the cream cheese icings are too much for a family cake at home, nice for a treat though. And last but not least I made chicken fajita’s. Of which two will be going in the freezer and the rest will be our supper this evening.

So 45 main courses, 15 veg bags and 1 cake, not bad for a days work.