food glorious food

Family Smellie is very keen on its food and Thailand has not let us down once.  So we thought it was time that we did a little hands on cooking.   Rather than just stuffing our faces with the delicious food cooked by others, we would do some of the preliminary work ourselves.

Enter Toi, chef extraordinaire at Sea Dance.  She was chosen to bravely steer Family Smellie through the cooking process.  This is what awaited us when we arrived for our lesson.

 

Even if we didn’t cook it but just feasted with our eyes and noses that would have been a sensual journey in itself.  But Family Smellie needed to fill its bellies so onwards and upwards.

First up, as in any good project of any kind, is the preparation.  I was put on chopping duty and managed to impress Toi not only with my knowledge of nam pla but also my prowess with a mini machete!

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We began with seafood salad and followed with chicken green curry and chicken and ginger stir fry.  The Travellerwas not impressed by having to skin and scour the squid, but she did an excellent job.

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The seafood was left to marinade in soy sauce, nampla, chopped chilli, chopped garlic and palm sugar.  The Boss was in charge of chicken prep.

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First up was the green curry.  The curry paste was added to hot oil and the coconut cream added spoon by spoon.  I am used to chucking the tin in all at once, but this way the sauce remained thick and cooked more slowly, it was thinned with water or chicken stock later.

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Chicken first and finally vegetables.

 

The volunteer took notes.

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Stir fry was down to the Traveller and she was not convinced she could do the flip so expertly demonstrated by Toi, convinced that instead she would cover the Boss with a selection of chicken and vegetables.

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But she got the wrist action and managed a perfect stir fry flip with no stray veg at all.

 

And the finished products.

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And time to eat.

 

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A few days later I bumped into Toi in the gardens and she showed me around her kitchen garden.  Many of the vegetables used in the kitchen are grown on site and Toi is an excellent gardener as well as chef.  I also managed to impress her again with my knowledge of Holy Basil, there are hidden depths to me yet!  She not only grows a huge range of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs for the kitchen but also a comprehensive range of herbs for the spa as well.  And I can testify that the spa is as good as the kitchen!

Love Gillie x

 

 

Rosehips

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We have a huge Rugosa hedge and at this time of year it is bursting with hips, more than enough for me to pick my fill and still leave plenty for the birds.  They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C (rosehip syrup was a popular means to keep vitamin C levels up, especially in children, during the winter months).  We use it for rosehip jelly, rosehip syrup and also rosehip oil.

Rosehip oil is wonderful for the skin.  Packed with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties it is a permanent resident in  my bathroom cupboard.

True rosehip oil is made by cold pressing the seeds. Despite the fact I have succeeded in distilling my own rosewater (and broke a sink with the brick afterwards) I have yet to build a cold press in my kitchen.  However, I have found an alternative.  First of course  you need to pick your rosehips.

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750g of fresh rosehips

Remove the stalks and tails and any of the hairy seeds (great for itching powder).  I harvest with a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the debris away as I pick.  Next chop finely, I put mine in a food processor.

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Finally you place the macerated rosehips in a heavy bottomed pan with the oil of your choice.  I used 1 litre of Avocado oil this year, but any natural oil will do, avoid olive oil – it has rather a strong smell and can overpower the rosehips.

Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer on the lowest heat possible for about 6-8 hours.  You could also use a slowcooker or yoghurt maker.

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Strain through a jelly bag or cheesecloth and store in sterilised dark bottles.  Store out of sunlight.

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Love Gillie x

 

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Comfrey

When the goldenrod starts to flower then summer is igoin out and autumn is icumen in.  I am sure we will have lots more lovely sunny and warm days like today, in fact my birthday in early October has been a sunny day for as long as I can remember.  However, now is the time to start preserving and drying to ensure the natural medicine cabinet can see us through until next summer. Today I have been out in the garden harvesting comfrey, lavender, rosehips and chamomile

Let’s start with the comfrey.  Comfrey goes by many names Knitbone, Boneset, Bruise wort.  You get the gist, it’s a healer.  There is much discussion about the safety of comfrey due to its very high content of hepatotoxic pyrrolizideine alkaloids (PAs) wh rapich as you can guess from the name can lead to liver disease in high doses and it has been implicated in one death.  Consequently I only use it topically, in a salve, tincture or fresh compress.  See here to see it in action.

First collect your comfrey.  This is remarkably easy around us as the Boss planted it some 10 years ago and it is very hardy!  I collect both leaves and the root, there is a higher level of allantoin, which stimulates cell growth (and thus healing) and reduces inflammation in the root, but also a higher level of PAs.  Again I only use comfrey products externally and would caution anyone who wishes to take it internally to seek the advice of a professional herbalist first.

I made two types of salve and a tincture.

Salve one was  made using the oldest and most traditional  method.  Chop up your leaves and add them melted lard.  I used 125g lard and four handfuls of leaves.  Bring to a simmer, cover and leave to seep for a couple of hours and pour into a sterilised jar (you may need to warm it slightly to melt it sufficiently to pour into the jar.

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Salve two is the process I first learned when making salves.  Instead of using lard I used coconut oil and cold pressed rapeseed oil.  The first stage is the same as making salve one.  125ml of rapeseed oil and three tablespoons of coconut oil, four handfuls of leaves, chopped.  Bring to simmer, leave to seep.  What you have now is comfrey oil and you can leave it like that.  It is a good massage oil for those broken bones that cannot be set (such as toes and shoulders).  If you want to make a m ore solid salve you will need approximately 30g of beeswax (the amount you use will determine the solidity of your salve).  Grate the wax and place with the comfrey oil in a bowl over a pan of boiling water and heat gently until the wax and oil are combined.  Pour into sterilised jars.

Comfrey Tincture is the easiest recipe of all.  Wash and chop 100g of comfrey root and place in a clean jar with 150ml of vodka (the highest proof you can find, I am kicking myself for not buying the 96% vodka I saw on sale in Romania for about £15/litre!)  Leave it for 2-3 weeks and transfer to clean amber dropper bottles.

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Finally I put the leftover root in the dehydrator and will grind it up to make tincture or salve later on in the year if we run out.

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Next up rosehips.

Love Gillie x

 

A bit of a pickle

I made it just in time.  A couple of days ago the nasturtiums were in full bloom, a wave of yellow, orange and red across the courtyard.  Today they are the sorry leftovers of a super slug feast.  Like slimy locusts they have laid the courtyard bed bare.  Fortunately I had been in and harvested the seeds a few days earlier and now have my very own homegrown “capers” pickling away.

Harvesting nasturtium seeds is easy.  They are huge great things (for seeds) up to a centimetre long and look a little like mini brains.  They come away from the plant easily and you can often see them on the ground underneath the flowers.

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First you need to wash them and then soak them in brine (about 50g salt to 500ml water) for 24 hours.

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The following day rinse and pack into sterilised jars and cover with boiling pickling vinegar.  In theory you could use standard vinegar but pickling vinegar gives pickles that slightly rich flavour.  You can buy packs of pickling spices or make up your own mix using, for example, mace, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cardomom, coriander, juniper berries, bay leaves.  Add the spices to the vinegar, bring to the boil then leave to cool for a minimum of a couple of hours, though overnight is better.

Seal with a well fitting lid or use a kilner jar.  They should  be ready to eat in two to three weeks. Pretty much any fruit or vegetable can be pickled, I pulled out shedloads of wild leek earlier in the spring and pickled the bulbs.  I also adore pickled eggs and as we have hens it is a perfect way to use up the inevitable excess!

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Repurpose before you Recycle

Thank you for all the lovely comments both here and on  my FB page.  It is good to hear from so many people who want to ditch plastic and other single use items.  So in the spirit of reusing before recycling I have a challenge for you this week.  A repurpose challenge.

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This morning I lost an old stained bamboo tee-shirt and acquired some dusters.  Very easy.  I cut up the tee-shirt and have a nice new set of lovely soft bamboo dusters.  The tee shirt wasn’t fit for charity but it wasn’t yet ready for composting.  Win win.

So my challenge for you this week, and I’ll try to do it too and let you know how I get on:

Monday:  Repurpose something you used to wear.  It could be clothing, jewellery, a scarf or a hair accessory, anything you used to wear.

Tuesday:  Repurpose something you made.  It could be last night’s leftovers or a three piece suit!  Please do not repurpose your children however irritating they are!

Wednesday: Repurpose something you have put out for recycling.  A plastic bottle, a jar, some envelopes.  Get creative in your recycling bin.

Thursday:  Repurpose something from your black hole.  We all have them, the place where we put things we don’t know what to do with but can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of.  Some are as big as a garage or outbuilding.  Some are as small as a kitchen drawer.  You know yours, now go release something from it.

Friday:  Repurpose something that is broken.  If you can’t repair it can you turn it into something else

You get the weekend off!

Love Gillie

 

Plastic detox

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I have been following Plastic Free July for several years now and have learned a lot and managed to cut our use of plastic considerably.  However, it’s not just about refusing plastic bags and using glass or stainless steel for food storage.  The real problem is the hidden plastic.  The plastic you can’t see and don’t expect.

When you buy food at the deli counter in the supermarket you may have noticed that some shops (eg. Sainsburys) no longer wrap your ham in a plastic bag but a paper one.  You duly put said bag in the recycling bin.  But is it paper?  No it’s not, it is “mixed  materials not currently recyclable”  The inside will be single use (i.e. non-recyclable plastic).

What about those teabags that you confidently put in the compost? If you buy organic teabags the chances are that they are 100% paper and are safe to put in your compost.  However most teabags contain polypropylene which is not biodegradable.  Which Magazine contacted major teabag producers to ask the polypropylene content of their bags.  These are some of the results:

Twinings: 0% polypropylene YIPPEE
Sainsburys Taste the Difference English Breakfast tea (Fairtrade):  1% Not bad
Morrisons: English Breakfast tea has 10% Could do better
PG Tips tea bags have 20%: YUK!
Yorkshire tea bags have 25%: YIKES!

If you are stuck on bags rather than loose tea then try to use those with the lowest polyproylene content and tear them before adding to the compost.

Most of us know that microbeads are not good.  They are clogging up the oceans and killing wildlife.  There are plenty of alternatives for scrubs.  Homemade using salt/sugar and oil, or scrubs from reputable organic companies such as Dr Organic from Holland and Barratt.  But what about the hidden plastics in cosemetics you didn’t know about?

A research paper published by the UN last year found a worrying level of hidden plastic in a huge range of cosmetic products  (UNEP report ‘Plastic in Cosmetics’, 2015)

“Microbeads and other plastic ingredients are present in products ranging from toothpaste and shower gel to eye shadows and nail polish. Their proportions vary in different products, from less than 1 per cent to more than 90 per cent of the content. In a typical shower gel analyzed in laboratory, there was roughly as much plastic material in the gel itself as in its packaging.”

You can download an app created by Beat the Microbead to check the microplastic content of a product before you purchase and look for the Look for Zero logo below to show that the product is 100% plastic free.

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I mentioned the cardboard take away coffee cups yesterday.  Have you ever tried to pour hot water into a cardboard box!  There has to be something on the inside of the those cups to ensure that you don’t end up with a hot soggy pile of cardboard in your hands as you walk through the park.  Most of the time it’s polyethylene and renders the cups unrecyclable.

Likewise those cardboard juice containers, many tinned foods, some cigarette filters, till receipts, labels on everything from groceries to clothes.  All contain plastic.

When I first started using my own shopping bags and refusing to put loose fruit and veg in a plastic bag but brought my own reused paper bags I got a lot of very funny looks.  Now refusing a plastic bag is second nature.  The way we win the war against plastic is to refuse it.  Not just the plastic you can see, but educate  yourself about that which  you can’t.

Love Gillie x

 

The reusable holiday

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I’m just back from a fabulous three weeks in Romania, which is why the blog has been so quiet (that and some techy issues that seem to have been resolved).  However, I am aware that for many of you, particularly those of you with school age children, the summer holidays have only just started and you are probably packing and sorting ready for a few weeks R&R.

It doesn’t really matter where you are going, whether it’s a fortnight on the beach or hiking in the Alps, there are some things that are not just useful, but essential for a hassle-free holiday.  In our case these tend to revolve around food and drink.  We like lots of picnics, we like to try out the local foods and no holiday is complete without a beach or riverside bbq.

Most of the things required can easily be bought in the disposable picnic area of any supermarket.  But I don’t want disposable, I don’t want plastic.  I want reusuable and sustainable.  So this is what we packed to go to Romania.

Bamboo Cutlery.  One hundred percent biodegradable and compostable when they finally come to the end of their life.  In the meantime, light and easy to use.

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Food wrap.  These are great and double up as plates as well  I make my own using organic cotton and beeswax but there are plenty available online.  Just rinse with hot water.

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Drinking cups.  Well you don’t really want to be swigging the wine out of a bottle!

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Water bottles.  There is only a few things I loathe more than plastic water bottles, not only are they unneccessary for most day to day situations, they contribute to vast amounts of waste and most contain bpa which is directly linked to some cancers.

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Portable fire bowl  and grill.   This is the best thing ever!  We used to buy a disposable  bbq and reuse it all  holiday but this is one stage better and is absolutely brilliant.

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Finally, don’t forget a sharp knife, a corkscrew and/or a bottle opener!  Happy holidays 🙂

Love Gillie

 

reclaim your garden

Excess photo alert: the sun doesn’t often show his face around here!

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Here in the UK the sun has been out for three whole days.  That is little short of a miracle and in true British fashion, the weather is pretty much the number one topic of conversation.  It is wonderful, I am a summer person, I hate wearing lots of clothes and can’t wait to be in flip flops loose tops and cut off trousers and leggings.  It certainly makes deciding what to wear in the morning much easier when you only need to wear two items!

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Yesterday I took the day off, no work whatsoever.  I lay in the hammock all afternoon and read.  At the perfectly appointed time The Boss came out with a large glass of Pinot Gris.  At this point for fear of wasting the Pinot by inadvertently watering the grass with it I moved to the table and continued to read, sip and listen to the birdsong.

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What has made this year in the garden so wonderfully easy is that we decluttered all the outbuildings two years ago.  We no longer have half a deckchair hanging around just in case.  Boxes of garden toys that the girls have grown out of have gone.  In fact yesterday morning the trampoline frame (the pad had long gone) was picked up by a chap who is going to use it to make a polytunnel (Freegle is wonderful for letting things go to new and better homes).  We now use our hammock and deck chairs, I sit out in the courtyard with a cup of tea, we play ping pong in the meadow.

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Dolly enjoying a doze in the sun.

It is so easy to stuff seasonal things away where you can’t see them out of season, but then come summer (or winter and where are the snow chains?) and the effort of digging through all the rubbish is so depressing that it is easy to be tempted by those special offers and just go out and by some new chairs or ping pong bats.

Remember the Hanging Gardens of Brancepeth?  Now look at them.

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It’s lovely out there, take advantage of that, clear out one bit of one garage/outbuilding/shed.  Reclaim your summer.

Love Gillie x

potagers, physic gardens and whirling topiary

Yesterday I got up exceptionally early (actually an hour earlier than I needed to because I couldn’t read the clock) to head down to London for the Chelsea Flower Show.  Despite an hour of extra time to get ready I  managed to leave my phone at home so all the photos here are courtesy of the lovely Caroline who acted as my official snapper.

I was rather disappointed with the show gardens.  I appreciate that everything comes in cycles and that fashions change, but I got rather bored of endless firs, sparse plantings and large blocks of concrete and metal.  I mean, I took one look at the metal slabs in the Best in Show Telegraph garden and the first thing I thought was “of course, mountains”??  Meanwhile I rather liked  the comment I overheard at the L’Occitane garden “I might like it when it’s finished”!  Indeed, it was an excellent reproduction of a pretty and arid scene somewhere in the south of France.  But it wasn’t a a garden.  Certainly there were precious few that I would say, “oh yes, I’d like to sit out in that.”  But then I suspect I am rather old fashioned.

This came to be proven when we came across the Harrods Garden.  Plentiful and stunning planting, we weren’t the only ones to think so, it was one of the most crowded gardens I have seen in Chelsea for years.

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It was rather eccentric as every 15 minutes the topiary began to whirl and bob, the garden spun around the folly, and the window boxes rose up to the second floor (I rather liked the idea of being able to take your window boxes to bed with you).  But the planting, it was a dream.

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The other garden I loved, was similar in style, the RHS Greening the Gray garden, again plentiful planting (I particularly liked the idea of planting roses amongst the annuals, so often they are made to stand alone).  This was unusual as you could walk through it and enjoy it as a garden rather than merely spectate.  Vegetables in pots on the roof of the sheds, traditional mixing of veg and flowers and plenty of bee friendly plants.  In both gardens I was so impressed by the lupins, delphiniums and foxgloves so tall and straight!

We are fortunate enough to have enough space to grow pretty much what we want, north of England weather and chickens permitting.  I am very keen to build a physic garden and really want to do the Foundation Course at Dilston Physic Garden.  I wanted to do it this year, but I can’t make the dates so have blocked out the dates for next year already!

In the meantime I  need to start to plan the plants and compare to what I already have and where I have them.  At Chelsea I saw these  by Bacsac

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They are lovely, but more than I can afford.  So this bank holiday weekend the Boss and I are going into design mode.  Actually the design is less of a problem it’s the material, but we have an idea.  Watch this space to see if it works.

Love Gillie

 

 

 

the hanging gardens of Brancepeth

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I cannot take credit for these.  I first saw them on a friend’s blog, it wasn’t her idea either!  But now I pass them on to you, let there be hanging gardens around the world.

Quick diversion, anyone reading this who went to a PNEU school will have had a class called From Ur to Rome.  It was based on a book of the same name and was tolerably interesting.  However, the sections on the ziggurats and on the hanging gardens of Babylon transfixed me.  I was frequently in trouble for flicking back to them and thus having no idea what the rest of the class was discussing!

You will need LOTS of plastic milk bottles (2l) or detergent bottles (the bulk 3l ones).  Unless you are a family of 20 who each drink a litre of milk a day collecting these will be the hardest part.  You need to raid your friends’ recycling bins.

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Place the bottle in front of you sideways on with the handle on the left then cut out a square shape from the opening at the top down about 4-6 inches depending on the size of your bottle.  Next attach some two by two to your chosen wall.  The number you will need will depend on how long you plan on making your garden.  You will need a new support every 3ft or so.

Now insert a large round hook in each support.  Thread the appropriate length of dowling through the handle of each milk bottle, rest the dowling in the hook and hey presto your very own hanging garden.

We have planted salad greens, summer herbs, carrots, strawberries, nasturtiums