Monday, August 17, 2015

A Very Busy Summer

We are having a VERY busy summer! This is really just an update post, in the neverending hope that one day I will manage to blog regularly.

Back in June we discovered Dartmeet and Daniel overcame his temporary dislike of water with a bit of paddling. Adam, meanwhile, fell in love with a small piece of oak tree and munched it contentedly for a good half hour.

Not long afterwards, we had our first (and so far only) trip to the beach. I'm not a great fan of sand, personally, but living only half an hour away it had to be done at least once. 

We have become pros at picnics this year, just as I had hoped, and even when the sun has failed us we have managed to keep in practice. These were flourless chocolate muffins (the page seems to be down but hopefully only temporarily - this is why I need to start printing my favourite online recipes!) and were seriously yummy.

Then came our amazing adventures in Switzerland and Germany. I was working for a week at the very first Cued Speech Training Week for Professionals, teaching French and Swiss transliterators and other professionals how to cue in English. It's hard to sum up the experience other than to say it was fantastic - inspiring people, lots of fun, stunning weather, great food... The boys had a whale of a time with their dad in the creche and Daniel picked up a few useful words in French to go with his new-found (if still fairly small) German vocabulary. 

Afterwards we pootled off to the Black Forest and had just under a week on a farm near Triberg. Breakfast on the terrace every day, looking out at this view and hearing nothing but the odd cow bell, was the perfect way to unwind after the adrenaline of the previous week. 
Daniel was absolutely in his element. He stomped around the farm, fed the animals, chased the chickens, played endlessly, and even got to make honey, right from beehive through to spoon! 

We even crammed in a visit to the stunning Falls of Rhine at Schaffhausen on the way home.

It was wonderful to see Daniel's independence growing while we were away. He became more confident with strangers (even in foreign languages) and in Germany he even slept in his own room for the first time. That has carried on now that we are back home, which gives us an incentive to hurry up with sorting out his bedroom. Adam has given us another incentive by doing this (clue: 2 minutes earlier I had put him by the blue ball)...

To begin with there was no technique and pretty slow (but determined) progress. As of this week, though, he is sitting up on his own (exactly the same age as his brother did, 5½ months) and commando crawling with remarkable speed, usually in the direction of Daniel's toys, which go straight into his mouth. So far, Daniel has been very patiently removing the toys and offering something he feels is more appropriate in return (Adam is not fooled for a second) but I suspect the novelty will soon wear off. Adam has also produced his first two signs this week - "milk" and "hot", so we are having a week of learning all da skillz!

And yes, he has suddenly gone blond. Didn't see that coming!

In other news, the garden has not done particularly well this year. I dropped the ball quite spectacularly in the run-up to Switzerland because fitting in the preparation for that just didn't leave time or brain space for anything else. The peas, courgettes, squash and onions were utterly decimated by slugs, Daniel's potatoes produced a grand total of about 6, the beetroot is looking none too healthy and I never got round to staking up the tomato plants so they have all gone flop. There are, however, some flowers and green tomatoes, so all is not lost. The leeks aren't dead yet, the apple tree is covered in fruit, and the gooseberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes all cropped for the first time this year. Ah well. 

I have managed to make two types of jam (raspberry and gooseberry & elderflower) using berries from my uncle's garden, and I have grand plans for blackberries and apples when they are ripe. I have settled back into meal planning and got our food budget firmly under control, and produced some very nice bread recently. 

Forest School is having a break for the summer but we have discovered the home ed group at Embercombe and fallen utterly in love. Within five minutes of arriving Daniel had disappeared with a complete stranger and a gaggle of children to find sheep, which was a good sign! I find the whole atmosphere of the place, as well as the opportunity to hang out with like-minded families, is helping me to be a lot gentler in the way I interact with Daniel. Obviously there are still times (many of them) when I get overwhelmed, tired, cross and naggy, but it is nice to have a few hours each week in a place that is so special. It feels simultaneously purposeful and tranquil, which is a rare combination in our busy, bustling, noisy world.  

The only other major thing I can think of is that we have been to an art exhibition by a friend of mine, "Symphony in Paint" by Hannah Willson. It was Daniel's first experience of non-representational art and we spent some time talking about which colours we liked, what sounds it reminded us of and which music we thought Hannah might have been thinking about when she was painting (she has synesthesia and was using that in these paintings). The exhibition was in an art cafe in Exeter so we finished off our trip with a large slice of cake before we went home and painted our own pictures. Recently I had been aware that Daniel was becoming a bit tied up in knots over his paintings needing to be 'of' something, so it was lovely to see him joyfully playing with colour again. I had a good time doing the same thing too!

[photo from]

So, lots going on! I will leave you with some beautiful photos by my dad of the boys today (or yesterday, looking at the time) in the Robin Hood costumes I made them for a fancy dress birthday party. I'm very proud of them!


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A beautiful Spring day out

You know those days when you're just desperate to get out of the house and eat cake? Today was one of those days. 

First, I finally managed to get into the garden and clear the veg patch. It seems that Adam has just reached the stage of being happy to lie on a blanket for a bit and look at the trees; Daniel, meanwhile, had found some pavement chalk and was testing it on the conservatory floor while I pretended to myself that I didn't know what he was doing. 

No photos until I've dug it over properly but it is hand-cleared; i.e. I've pulled out all the weeds. As it's had a couple of years of good maintenance now, that was all that was needed for virtually all of it. The stakes marking it into sections are still there (I planted them pretty deeply) so just need new string between them and we'll be good to go. I'll also get some manure to dig in as the weeds have probably leeched a fair bit of the goodness out of the soil. 

By the time I'd done the clearing (at lightning speed because I knew my time was limited) Adam was making it clear that he'd finished chatting to the trees and was getting fed up. I was on a roll and really resented having to stop, so I felt pretty grumpy too, hence the out+cake plan. 

Trying to think of somewhere that wouldn't break the bank for lunch but would do decent (and decent-sized) cake, I decided a National Trust property was probably our best bet. We're NT members so entrance and parking are free. We have 3 quite close to us and have been to two of them quite recently, but Castle Drogo seemed a good bet. The thought of the woodland paths around it was quite appealing too. 

So off we went! I know I've visited the place before many years ago but it's been a long time since I got further than the cafe. In an ideal world we'd have taken a picnic and saved the cost of a cafe lunch but it was already quite late when we left home and I wanted to go before anything else cropped up. That can be a resolution for next time.  

WHAT a revelation! You walk through the gardens to get to the castle and they are big enough to satisfy big people but small enough to be manageable for little ones. There's a nice mix of woodland and formal areas and they have a (slightly weird) thing for children at the moment where you have to spot the jelly moulds hiding in the garden. Random but it does keep up the momentum with a toddler!

The castle itself is currently encased in plastic as it was only built 100 years ago and some of the building materials used haven't stood the test of time very well. They're making the best of it, though. They have a portacabin on the way in that turns out to be set up like the site office from 100 years ago, with lots of buttons to press and things to try out. 

Inside, there is a system of envelopes in each room containing photos of some design element that the kids have to find (e.g. a close-up of a fish in the corner of a portrait). A bit simple for older children but perfect for Daniel. In the tapestry room they also have a spinning wheel and hand loom that you can try out, which went down very well. What is it about things that go round? All the guides were lovely and very patient with 3 year old exuberance. We'll certainly be back because we didn't even come close to exploring everything as thoroughly as Daniel wanted to. 

On the way back Daniel waved to the motorised buggy thing laid on for people who can't walk through the gardens and the lady driver beeped to him, then stopped and invited him on board to have a go at beeping himself! For a child his age who is developing a deep interest in all things transport- and noise-related, life doesn't really get much better than that!

Except life did get a bit better, because we ended up back at the cafe with chocolate ice cream instead of cake. That was a very good call! When Daniel finally finished his he announced "I won!" Well, yes, but the ice cream put up a pretty good fight :-D 

One very sticky but happy boy, one less sticky but equally happy mummy, and a baby who was content with slingy cuddles and a bit of a munch on the wrap while he contemplated life!

Oh, and a VERY tame lady pheasant. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A Few Changes

Once again it's been rather a long time since my last post. In my defense, though, I have been a bit busy...


...turned into this...

...on 28 February. Meet Adam! He was born at home at 41 weeks + 6 days with absolutely no medical intervention during the labour. The full birth story will follow in another post :-) 

In the meantime, his big brother has just turned 3 and now looks like this: 

He's adjusted remarkably well to having a little brother, aside from the odd hiccup you'd expect from a 3 year old. He has sat on the baby once or twice but no major damage seems to have been done! I try to remember that younger siblings throughout history have had a fairly good survival rate so it's not worth getting stressed about. 

In home ed news, we've mostly just been pottering. We did do a bit on Passover, though that was interrupted by a tummy bug that swept through the family. We may put it all together into a lapbook in the next week or two if I get round to it; if not, we'll leave it. 

Daniel has got very into pretend games recently and his new farmyard and animals that he got for his birthday have been a real hit. He also requested (and got) a visit to a real farm on his actual birthday and we have just booked up to spend a week on a farm in the Black Forest in July, following a week in Switzerland where I'm teaching at the first Cued Speech Summer School. (And yes, that is absolutely as cool as it sounds and I am hugely excited!) So I'm thinking the next few months will involve a lot of animal and insect stuff. 

We have just restarted Forest School and joined the under-7s home ed group there, which actually makes Daniel one of the youngest. He is loving it - I haven't seen him so comfortable in a group for ages. He loves being around older children and is thriving with the extra freedom they can have with the slightly older kids there. I barely see him for most of each session, which is a welcome change as he is generally (and understandably) needing rather a lot of mummy time at the moment. 

On the garden front, the veg patch hasn't yet been cleared (maybe tomorrow) but we have planted our potatoes outside and have tomatoes, peas and sunflowers doing nicely in the conservatory ready for planting into grow bags on the patio. 

From my own point of view I'm finding it a bit hard having very little chance to do anything for myself. I'm trying to be proactive and find things that work around the kids and hopefully some of those will come together soon. I am really missing the social side of the university chaplaincy, though, and have yet to find something to fill that hole. 

To end on a happy note, I'll leave you with this...
The wonders of licking out the bowl when making brownies!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Menu Plan Week 6

We’ve been thinking about our finances recently and how we can make some savings and generally get things looking more healthy. A few years ago we managed to get really organised so we could save up for our wedding and it’s high time we tried to get back to that. Obviously losing my salary made a big difference (even though it was negligible it was still considerably more than I get now) but on the other hand, I have more time now to cook things from scratch, budget etc.

Where I can really make a difference is with food. We’re cutting down on some luxuries (fancy cheese was becoming a serious habit) and I want to get a bit simpler with my cooking. I made a basic tuna and veg pasta for me and Daniel on Saturday and he ate practically his own bodyweight in it, which makes me think he’d appreciate a bit more simplicity sometimes too! Also more batch cooking on days when I have some time to spare so that we have quick things in the freezer. That should cut down on the time/effort-saving-but-correspondingly-expensive meals that we’ve been resorting to far too often.

Now that Daniel spends more time doing his own thing, I can have more time playing in the kitchen. I’m especially starting to plan things like pickles, jams and chutneys which are useful not only for ourselves but also fantastic for Christmas presents. Our own garden wasn’t particularly productive this year but a couple of relatives have offered surplus apples etc. One presented me with last year’s (now empty) Kilner jar and the offer of more apples… I’m taking that as a hint!

We’re more than halfway through our food week now (starts on Thursday with the Farmers’ Market) but with Yom Kippur we got off to a slow start. So here goes:

Homity pies from the market with rainbow chard.

Pre-Yom Kippur trip to Pizza Express. Expensive but we do it every year and it makes life a lot easier with the timings.

Just me and Daniel as DH was fasting. Whipped up a super-quick tuna/tomato/veg macaroni thing.

At my parents’. We also splashed out at lunchtime as my parents took Daniel for a few hours so we could have a VERY rare date. It’s been months since we had any time with just the two of us (especially as D doesn’t go to bed until we do) and we felt it was worth it.

Aubergine and red lentil moussaka, bulked up with some mushrooms and kale too. I didn't love the topping for this but I had some leftover ricotta that needed using up. There was enough to make a little one for the freezer but I forgot about it and it burned to a cinder in the oven. Oops! 

Romanesco cauliflower goulash. Lots of this left over for the freezer. 

Synagogue sukkah celebration. I’ll make some butternut squash soup to take in thermos flasks and serve in paper cups – the weather here has just realised it’s autumn, so this feels like a good thing to take. Anything left can go in the freezer for quick lunches or suppers.

I also have a red cabbage which I’ll cook and freeze in batches to go with various meals (beef sausages and mash, grilled halloumi cheese and potato salad, that kind of thing) and I’m preparing for our sukkah party on Saturday. If I can get hold of a pumpkin, I’ll do mini pumpkin and feta pasties, but with Halloween still a few weeks off I’m not holding my breath. 

High Holydays Review and Week 5 Menu (sort of)

Warning: This has got a bit rambly but I want to remember it for future reference! There’s a lot of religious terminology in this post, so I’ve put a glossary at the bottom for anyone who wants to know.

Phew, the High Holydays are over and it’s time to relax – sort of, except that Sukkot starts tomorrow evening! This is definitely the festival month, with Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) ten days later, followed 5 days after that by Sukkot, and then Simchat Torah the following week. After that there’s a long break until Chanukah (in mid-December this year).

All the tidying and cleaning did get done before Rosh Hashanah, largely due to a sterling effort by DH, who could be found defrosting the freezer at 1am the day before! Lest this sound like overkill, let me explain that the ice cube trays were welded into the top drawer and this was the only way to make sure we could do proper drinks before dinner on Wednesday. He also did various other lengthy and unpleasant jobs and generally helped make the whole thing happen. Our house is now more sorted than it’s been since we moved in!
The Erev Rosh Hashanah meal was lovely and the timings for cooking all worked out well. DH teamed up with YouTube and managed to deseed three pomegranates in about 20mins (thus gaining himself a job for life). I did pretty much all the rest of the cooking over the two or three days leading up to it. The apple-stuffed challahs turned out enormous and very yummy, though could have done with being covered in foil and given an extra 20 minutes (at least) in the oven – mental note for next year.

The lamb was fantastic, and ideal for this kind of meal. I got a whole leg weighing something in the region of 3.4 kilos. With this recipe I just had to throw a few ingredients in a bowl and mix them, pour them over the lamb in a roasting tin, cover and stick it in the oven at 1.30. I then ignored it until 6.30 when I removed the foil and ignored it for another half an hour, got it out and left it to rest until we were ready to eat. Simples!

All in all, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and my mum and DH pitched into the clearing up so it was all done by the time we went to bed. The leftovers were useful too – the salads lasted the next two nights and the rice went well with the vegetarian ghormeh sabzi on Thursday evening. The lamb was hugely expensive (we get locally-reared organic) BUT there was enough left to make a really nice moussaka on Friday night and about 8 pasties of various sizes. All together I worked out that we got about 20 portions from it, so it doesn’t work out too badly, especially considering it was a special occasion.

On Rosh Hashanah I stayed at home with Daniel during the morning and we made cardboard shofars and Rosh Hashanah cards for the people he knows best at shul. These were just apple and leaf shapes cut out of felt and glued onto blank cards – a good way of killing half an hour and he’s always up for a bit of glueing. We arrived at shul bang on time for the shofar service, as planned. Daniel heard the first blast of the shofar and instantly whipped out his cardboard version and gave a loud TOOT! The shofar-blower didn’t miss a beat, though DH says he did let out a chuckle, but everyone else was in stitches. At least he understood what it was for!

On Saturday we decided to have a family day out and took off to Stonehenge. It’s nearly 2 hours away but we have English Heritage membership so entry is free once we get there and we took a picnic (lamb pasties featured heavily) to eat in the field outside. The place has changed hugely since I last went as a child, with an enormous visitors’ centre (mostly consisting of a café and a large shop aimed mostly at Chinese tourists) and a fairly lengthy shuttle bus/train-thing ride to get to Stonehenge itself. For a toddler, though, this was ideal, and he enjoyed being outside in the sun and being able to run around.

We treated ourselves to hot chocolate in the café afterwards, where they have tried to become more efficient by avoiding using anything that needs washing up. In real terms this means paper cups, plastic spoons etc, all justified with the excuse that it’s all “recyclable, reusable or compostable”. I’m not convinced that it takes less energy to recycle most of that stuff than it does to wash up, but there you go. I was more irritated that the staff cleaning the tables between customers were just sweeping everything onto the floor, which was filthy. Still, the weather was nice, the pasties were lovely, we learned some interesting things about Stonehenge and it was good to spend time together as a family without a list of jobs that needed doing. For a relatively inexpensive day out it was well worth it.

On Monday we had a trip to a local-ish honey farm with some other HE families. I’ve been considering going for a while and it was the perfect outing for the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because honey is such an important food at RH (for a sweet new year). Since we were driving nearly an hour to get there, it made sense to see if anyone else wanted to go. There were 6 families, some we knew already and some we were meeting for the first time, and a range of ages. The exhibition bit of the place was underwhelming but it was a good springboard for further investigation into bees etc and they had a fantastic jungle gym in the café.

I have absolutely no recollection of what we ate for the rest of the week but I do know that pasties came up more than once, accompanied by mashed swede, cabbage and gravy, which worked surprisingy well. I’d forgotten how much I like straightforward cabbage – must get it more often.

 On Yom Kippur we all went to shul for Kol Nidrei because I play Bruch’s version on my violin to start the service. I’ve been doing it for more years than I can remember but this year had managed to squeeze in some proper practise time in the week leading up. I think this was the best I’ve ever played it :-) We were hoping to stay for the whole service but Dan was tired and didn’t understand why, in a packed shul, he couldn’t run around like he usually does, so I took him home early while DH waited to bring the cantor back to ours. Daniel cried ALL the way home!

When we got back I got out a mini yad I recently got from eBay for about £8. I’d been planning to save it until nearer Simchat Torah, but this seemed like a good time. He helped me unwrap it and instantly recognised what it was, so I got out my miniature replica Torah scroll (had it for years to use during school visits) and he spent nearly an hour processing around the living room with it and practising gelilah. He seemed to feel this made up for having to leave shul early!

To put this into context, the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah we went to shul in the evening for a Selichot service, during which they planned to change the Torah mantles to the High Holyday white ones. It was the first time we’d done this in Exeter (at least for a very long time) and there were only a handful of people there, most of whom we know well. They were lovely with Daniel, making sure he was completely involved and standing him on the table so he could very solemnly lift the yad and rimmonim off each Sefer. He even got to help carry the smallest one from the Ark and he looked so proud! It was beautiful watching all the adult men with our tiny little boy in the middle, taking his part in the community and looking fit to burst with pride. One of those times you wish it was even vaguely ok to take a photo, but it really wasn’t!

On the day itself (Saturday) Daniel and I pottered around at home doing painting and making decorations for our sukkah – not really right for Yom Kippur but it was raining and I couldn’t think of anything else. The afternoon service was planned especially for kids and we went in for that, with the children all helping to get the Torah out, and the aliyot were given to various parents with their children – e.g. “Avraham ben Yosef, Abba shel Daniel.” (Hebrew name used when being called up, followed by “Daddy of Daniel”). Daniel had brought the mini Torah from home and carried in the procession. Fortunately, although he put it in the Ark with the others, he took it out again before the doors were shut, otherwise he’d have spent the next hour asking to get it back! Afterwards we all went upstairs with the cantor and another member of the congregation and had songs and stories for a bit. I really hope this is done again at the High Holydays because it was great, really family-friendly in a way that a lot of those services just aren’t.

The next festival, Sukkot, starts tomorrow evening and we’ll be going to the synagogue celebration (in someone’s garden) to help decorate the sukkah and generally do all the things you do at Sukkot. We have our own Arba Minim this year so Daniel will get to investigate it properly over the week, and our sukkah will go up on Saturday (a few days late) when we have the Jewish toddler group and various friends and family coming round for a Sukkah party. There are two large cheesecakes in the freezer already and my head is buzzing with all the other things I want to make for it! Now that Daniel is more aware of the festivals and understands a bit more I’m trying to really build on it, and also involve other people so it becomes something he can share in the same way that other people have Christmas parties.

So there we are!

aliyah (pl. aliyot) – being called up to read the Torah
arba minim – four species of plants used at Sukkot
ark – cupboard in a synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept
gelilah – dressing and undressing the Torah scroll
Kol Nidrei – service on the evening beginning Yom Kippur
rimmonim – finials on top of the Torah scroll
Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year
Sefer Torah – Torah scroll
shofar – ram’s horn blown at the New Year
shul – synagogue
Simchat Torah – festival when we finish the annual cycle of Torah readings and start again at the beginning
Sukkah – shelter built for Sukkot and decorated with foliage, crafts etc
Sukkot – Feast of Tabernacles
yad – Torah pointer

Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Menu Plan Week 4: Rosh Hashanah Approaches!

Rosh Hashanah starts next Wednesday evening and I have only just clocked precisely how much needs to be done before then. As usual, we'll be hosting the lovely cantor from Berlin who is coming to take the High Holy Days services here, which means that upstairs needs to be made reasonably civilised, and we are following DH's family's tradition of having family round on Erev Rosh Hashanah for a big meal. The dining room usually functions as an office for the two of us, which makes it a fairly big job to turn it back into a space where 10 people can eat in relative comfort. 

I'm definitely a list person, and having spent some time today with a paper and pen I'm feeling less overwhelmed by the jobs to be done. I've come up with a menu that should be manageable because a lot of it is done in advance. 

Menu for the week, first of all. The goal for this week is to clear stuff out of the freezer to make room for some things I have planned. 

By the way, if you've noticed (probably not!) that Thursday is always missing, that's because we get individual pies or quiche or similar from a stall at the Farmers' Market every week and reheat them to go with salad or veg. It's not that exciting, so doesn't go onto the menu.

Spaghetti bolognaise using beef mince from the freezer.

Homemade chicken schnitzel, chips, green beans or similar.

My parents' as usual but I'm making a chocolate beetroot cake to take for my uncle's birthday.

Cottage pie and assorted veg (pie from the freezer)

Baked beetroot, fried halloumi, couscous, salad. 

Because DH's familiy are Sephardi, the Erev Rosh Hashanah meal has traditionally been a full-blown seder. Last year my father-in-law was visiting from Israel and was keen for us to do the whole thing, so he translated his service sheet for us from Persian and we did some internet research, and we came up with a seder of our own that everyone was really happy with. 

This year, Daniel is that much older and less patient, and the guest list is slightly different. We (DH, Daniel and I) are going to be the only practising Jews there, so it seems silly do the whole thing. Instead, we'll do the basics of the prayers to start with, including lighting candles, and then the traditional foods (specifically dates, pomegranate, apple and honey) are incorporated into the menu. DH says that as long as pomegranates are involved, he'll be happy! I hope we can bring back the seder in the future when we have older kids, but it seems more sensible to park it for now.

We'll be having:

Round challah, possibly with apple and raisins in it

Slow-roasted Persian lamb (uses pomegranate molasses)
Adas polow (rice dish involving dates)
Pomegranate salad
Salad-e shirazi (finely chopped salad of onion, tomato, cucumber, mint and lemon juice)

Apple cake and honey cake, served with tea.

This feels fairly manageable. The cakes are best made a couple of days in advance and left to mature, so I can do them on Monday. I'll start the challah on Tuesday evening and finish it early Wednesday morning, when I'll also do the salads. The lamb will go into the oven at around 3.30pm and the rice will need around an hour and twenty minutes, which gives me plenty of time to lay the table and talk to people as they arrive, rather than being stuck in the kitchen the entire time. 

Our nice cantor lady is vegetarian, so when she comes back from shul (or before she goes, if she prefers) she'll have pumpkin curry from the freezer with some couscous and salad - also nice and easy on the night.

The cleaning and tidying is a bit more daunting, but I'm trying to prioritise so that if I find I'm getting too tired or achey to do it all, some things can just be left. I'd like to get as much as possible done because it will be easier to maintain from then on as I get more pregnant and would rather not be doing deep cleaning or major sorting out. However, I'm trying to remain realistic. 

We shall see how it all goes! 

Menu Plan Week 3 and Vegetarian Ghormeh Sabzi

Once again I have failed to get the menu up on here until the week is over! Some good stuff, though, so it might still be worth it... Next week's menu may or may not make it up here this evening - I'm promising nothing!

Vegetarian ghormeh sabzi (see below) and rice; strawberries and cream

Gnocchi with roasted squash, goat's cheese and spinach. This was my first time cooking gnocchi (bought, not hand-made) and it was lovely. One to repeat. 

At my parents'.

Aubergine and chickpea pasta. This was amazing - the spices make it a bit tagine-y and the harissa is a good addition. The best thing is that you add the harissa at the table, so can leave it out for small people if they're not keen. We found about a teaspoon was right for an adult portion to give it just enough kick. 

It was a long day. We got fish and chips. 

Went completely off-piste and invented a vegetable pasta dish that is going straight into my book of recipes, and onto here in case the book ever gets lost! See below :-)

Here are the two best recipes:

Vegetarian/Vegan Ghormeh Sabzi (serves 4)
Ghormeh sabzi is a Persian stew usually made with lamb. My mother-in-law taught me how to make it and I do occasionally but it does take hours. I made up this version a couple of years ago and it has the character of the original but takes a fraction of the time. Plus, obviously, it's vegetarian (and vegan, come to that)!

1-2 potatoes, diced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1tsp turmeric (approx)
1/2 cup puy lentils (or any dark green variety)
1 tin chickpeas
Ghormeh sabzi herbs (available as a dried herb mix in lots of Middle Eastern/Indian shops). If you can't get them or prefer to use fresh, use a mix of parsley, coriander, chives and fenugreek - around 1/4 cup of each if possible. You might want to add some chopped spinach and some finely chopped spring onions too.
1l vegetable stock
1/2 cup pearl barley
2-3 dried limes or dried lemons (get these in shops selling Indian spices)

Fry the potatoes in vegetable oil until golden brown. Set aside.
Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil and turmeric until soft, then add the potatoes.
Add the lentils, chickpeas and herbs and cook for 2 mins.
Add the stock and pearl barley. Simmer for 10 mins, then add the dried limes. Simmer for a further 20mins, adding more water if needed (it shouldn't be sloppy, but add more liquid if needed to stop it burning on the bottom).
Season well and serve with rice.

Summery Vegetable Pasta
Leeks, sliced
Chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Courgette, grated
Peas (optional)
Thyme (dried or fresh)
Cream cheese

While the pasta is cooking, gently cook the leeks and mushrooms in a little oil (any kind; I used coconut). 
After a few minutes, add the grated courgette, peas and thyme and continue to cook down. 
Just before the pasta is ready, add a few spoonfuls of cream cheese and season well. 
Mix the pasta into the vegetable mixture and serve. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Menu Plan Week 2 and a general round-up

An action-packed week over here and I've still managed to find time to write this! Feeling rather proud of myself :-)

For the first time in ages we've had a busy week that has been almost entirely social rather than working. I'm hoping we can have more of those, as it's not fair on Daniel for him to be constantly playing second fiddle to my various jobs. 

On Saturday the three of us went to Crealy as we had a free adult pass that expired that day. It was the first time I'd been in years, and definitely the last. The place is my idea of hell! Plastic, crowded, noisy, over-stimulating, artificial... yuk. It's moved a long way since my childhood when they had a play park with great slides (you had to sit in hessian sacks to go down them!), a few animals and the opportunity to have a go at milking a cow. I don't think it's an improvement.

Sunday was a vast improvement as Daniel requested a trip to Escot, which is everything Crealy isn't! Sadly, I couldn't go because I needed to spend the day working, but DH took him and they came back knackered, happy and smelling faintly of woodsmoke from the Anglo-Saxon village :)

On Monday we had our very first Not Back To School Picnic in a tiny (and very nice) park I didn't know existed! There were lots of families, including several we knew, and Daniel tired himself out nicely on the climbing frames in the sun. 

We had spent the morning cooking together for the first time in months and I managed to butt out and let Daniel get on with things, which I think is where I went wrong before. We had a chat the day before about things we could make for the picnic and I made a list with pictures so he could see what was coming next. We made hummous, cucumber and sweet pepper batons for dunking, spicy popcorn, fishcakes and carrot cake. I've been inspired by reading a friend's blog to try some different things when I cook, as I feel like I've got into a rut. We see her at Forest School and are friends with another vegan family who were at the picnic, so I had a go at vegan carrot cake. It was seriously yummy - moist and spicy! Very easy and tasted virtually indistinguishable from my usual non-vegan version. I didn't do any frosting as I tend to feel that's too much of a good thing on carrot cake.

Tuesday was Forest School, and then teaching a bar mitzvah student in the afternoon (Daniel loves going there because they have three younger kids, a massive dog and a big garden!). In the evening we went to the first Homebirth Group of this pregnancy and saw at least 3 couples who we used to see there when we were pregnant with Daniel! Lovely to be back and meeting people who don't gasp in horror at the thought of a home VBAC. I think the baby enjoyed it too as I really felt it on Tuesday evening - very active this week!

Wednesday we had our very first Monkey Music class. Daniel was a little bemused at first - he's not really used to organised groups where you copy everyone else - but soon got into it and is clearly going to absolutely love it. He also fell desperately in love with the plush pink monkeys that are part of the merchandise, so we bought one (more expensive than I like but virtually all the other kids had them and he was getting upset that he didn't have one to cuddle too). I'm glad I did, actually - he's besotted with it! 

Today was the usual round of Farmers' Market followed by lunch with my mum. She usually looks after Dan the afternoon so I can go to an appointment; today the appointment was cancelled but she had him anyway and I had an almost-unheard-of opportunity to go maternity clothes shopping on my own! The Tour of Britain bike race was going through town this afternoon so I had a bit of time in a cafe on the route sipping a drink and giggling at the man who was supposed to be stopping pedestrians crossing the road in the path of the bikes. Someone had given him a whistle and he was clearly working out some deep, unresolved issues with a former P.E. teacher as he blew the thing to say people could cross the road, to say they couldn't, and sometimes, seemingly, just because he had it. I imagine it was pretty irritating if you were standing next to him, but from the distance of the cafe it was actually quite funny. 

Tomorrow we're meeting friends in a nearby park for a play, fitting in a supermarket shop and then having a leisurely afternoon getting ready for Shabbat. I'm trying to put more time into preparing so the evening/day itself can be more restful and it's gone well the last two weeks. I'm also trying to plan meals for Friday night that can be finished before we do kiddush; that way, I can sit down and enjoy the challah and the company without worrying about still having to cook. Last week we even managed havdalah on Saturday evening, though the mood was broken slightly by the smoke alarm going off (set off by the havdalah candle) and having to decamp to the kitchen halfway through! The week before I had shown Daniel the havdalah things and talked a bit about them, and last week he was very proudly showing DH what to do with the spice box, so it's clearly going in. Hope we can keep this up when the university term starts next week and a lot of our Fridays are taken up with chaplaincy.

I haven't done this coming week's menu yet (will do it over breakfast tomorrow, I expect!) but here's the one we've just had:

Friday: Ghormeh sabzi with rice and salad-e Shirazi; ripe figs for dessert. This is an Iranian stew my mother-in-law taught me to cook years ago. I haven't made it in forever but it's definitely worth the effort!

Saturday: Pumpkin & feta risotto with kale and asparagus. Came out a bit sloppy but still edible.

Sunday: Leftover ghormeh sabzi for lunch for me while the boys were out. Dinner at my parents' (curry night!)

Monday: Squash curry with chickpeas & rainbow chard and couscous. We didn't feel like curry two nights in a row so I did Wednesday's quiche instead. It wasn't particularly nice, surprisingly (I don't think I've ever found a Mary Berry recipe we didn't like before) so won't be repeating it.

Tuesday: Mushroom soup with savoury wholemeal scones and cheese. We were late back from tutoring and had to go back out to the homebirth group so scrapped this and got fish and chips.

Wednesday: Salmon & leek quiche with asparagus. See Monday. On Wednesday I started making the mushroom soup planned for Tuesday only to find that the mushrooms had gone furry! Threw in a baking potato and some thyme and nutmeg and produced a very acceptable leek and potato soup :-)

So that's our week! Next week's menu will no doubt appear at some point :-)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Menu Plan Week 1

What is with the formatting issues on here?! Massive paragraph breaks, random changes to different fonts... I have stared at the HTML page until my brain gave up and walked out, so it'll have to wait until DH can have a look at it. In the meantime, I'll just plough on!

I've just got back into meal planning in an attempt to try and get our household finances back under control and stop wasting so much food. As before, that means going to the Farmers' Market each Thursday with a set amount of cash and seeing what there is. I go to the stalls in order of priority so I don't run out of money before getting the important stuff, and vice versa only get certain luxury things if there's money left over at the end. Then I go home and plan a week's meals around what I've bought, write a shopping list for any extra supermarket things that are needed, and do a bit Tesco/Waitrose run on the Friday to get those things, again trying to stay within a certain budget. We have an overall budget for the week, and the plan is that even with extra things that might need to be got during the week (milk and bananas, mainly), we should stay within that. By Wednesday, we're usually down to just a couple of quid! 

That's the plan, anyway. There are weeks when lots of household things need replenishing (loo roll, cooking oil, laundry liquid, etc) and then it's very hard to stay within budget. This week I got back to doing the meal plan and the big shop, but a lot of the meals didn't actually get made, for a variety of reasons. Still, nice to get back into the habit. So here's the original plan, annotated to show what actually happened.

Friday: Corn-on-the-cob, aubergine and pine nut pasta (with courgettes and mushrooms and various other nice veggie things), strawberries and cream. All of this happened! It was seriously yummy. More on the rest of our Shabbat this week in a different post :-)

Saturday: Pumpkin and feta risotto with kale and asparagus (make extra for Monday). Didn't happen. We had sandwiches for lunch (fairly late) and ended up with so many that we couldn't face the thought of food in the evening.

Sunday: At my parents' house. Yup. 

Monday: Oven-baked risotto balls (arancini) with courgettes and asparagus. No again. I was teaching 6-7 and then suddenly realised that our local monthly Cue Club was on, so DH made fish fingers, chips and peas while I taught, and I bolted them as soon as I finished and raced out of the door. I spent most of the evening yawning but it was still nice to be out socialising for an hour without the small person.

Tuesday: Baked beetroot, halloumi, couscous fritters, salad, crème fraîche. No again!! I got back from tutoring at 6.30 with a pounding headache, which rapidly turned into a migraine. DH was out playing tennis but came home when he got my phone call and brought pizza and garlic bread from Waitrose. Needs must!

Wednesday: Tuna flan with salad. Again no, but this was more of an I've-run-out-of-ideas thing anyway. I did the menu for yesterday and it was thoroughly approved of by all. Even Daniel ate a bit of everything! The fritters were a bit overcooked and I thought they were too dense, but DH raved about them, so might just be me. I'll put more salt in next time to bring out the other flavours (lemon zest, pine nuts, ground almonds, fresh parsley, garlic, spring onions). 

With all the deviation from the plan I'd have expected to be over budget, but we just made it with about £3 to spare. Having said that, we were lucky not to have any big staple stuff to get this week. 

Market day again tomorrow. I've promised DH I'll make ghormeh sabzi (Iranian stew) on Friday night, so at least that's one meal sorted. His mum taught me how to make it years ago but I haven't made it for aaaages.  I might as well make the most of our chilled-out Fridays before uni starts and I'm back in the Chaplaincy for most of the day (at least for this term); like a lot of Iranian cuisine it assumes you're at home and able to keep an eye on a pan as it simmers for several hours - but so worth it!