Tuesday, 27 May 2014

National Vegetarian Week

After mentioning all those vegetarian options for May in my blog, I figured I should actually do one of them.  So last week (well, Monday to Saturday) was vegetarian week in our house.  I have to confess, it didn't involve as many exciting new recipes as I might like to pretend, but there you go.  Vegetarianism in real life.

(Breakfast is basically cereal and toast except Saturday when I made banana pancakes.)

Monday
Lunch: Barbequed courgette (grilled zucchini), refried bean and cheese quesadilla
We'd had a barbeque on Saturday and I cooked some courgette strips.  There were some left over that went rather well in a quesadilla.

Dinner: Frozen vegetable bakes, oven chips, baked beans, salad
Quick and easy - we were heading out to Toby's preschool parents' evening.

Tuesday
Lunch: Cottage cheese open-faced roll with cucumber and tomato

Dinner: Omelette filled with courgette and mushrooms, mashed potatoes, salsa
I hoped to get a photo of this one, but it came out a complete mess.  Omelettes are one of the few things I really don't cook well.

Wednesday
Lunch: Crumpet pizzas (crumpets spread with tomato puree and topped with grated cheese)

Dinner: Vegetable and lentil bulghar wheat, mint and cucumber raita, naan bread
Finally, a photo-worthy meal!  The naan was bought but the other recipes were from Anjum's Indian Vegetarian Feast.

Thursday
Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich, some kind of "healthy" crisps, fruit
Toby was off preschool, so we caught the bus to Burton-on-Trent and had a picnic in the park.

Dinner: Pizza, raw vegetables with hummus, baked beans
I bought a couple of frozen pizzas and we decorated them with peppers, olives, tomatoes and sweetcorn.  (Graham put tuna and hot sauce on his bit).


Friday
Lunch: Leftover veg and lentil bulghar
Aren't leftovers great?

Dinner: Sweet potato and mozzarella burger, chips, coleslaw and salad
We ate out at a local chain pub with a good children's play area.  They have an extensive menu, so I had a choice of about half a dozen veggie options, ranging from comforting macaroni cheese to a more sophisticated red pepper and red pesto tart.

Saturday
Lunch: Leftover veg and lentil bulghar
...again, because I kept forgetting to remind Graham to take his portion to work.  Maybe leftovers aren't soooo great.

Dinner: Homemade falafel in wraps with hummus and Greek yoghurt, and an avocado and grapefruit salad.
First time I've made falafel from scratch.  I used the recipe from Mumsnet, more or less, although why you would bother with all the grating and fine chopping when it then specifies a food processor is beyond me.  Either you have far too much time on your hands or you really don't trust your food processor.


And on Sunday we went to a friend's house for a very delicious meal of roast beef.  Well, I did say I was flexitarian, didn't I?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A bit of baking

You know those hot cross scones I mentioned in the Monthly Munch?  Well, I did get around to making them.  They didn't turn out quiiiite as they were meant to.  I guess I put too much liquid in (despite using less than the recipe stated) so the "very sticky" mentioned in the recipe turned into "Aaaggghhh!!!  It's all over my hands and I can't get it off!".  Even adding flour made it barely manageable, so I kind of threw handfuls of the stuff at the baking tray, shoved it in the oven and hoped for the best.


They were hot.  They weren't crossed and they definitely weren't scones.  We christened them hot blobby cakes and ate them enthusiastically.  Anything with that much dried fruit in is gonna taste good, no matter what it looks like.


Next up was chocolate red wine cupcakes for a friend's birthday.  I posted the recipe for this way back in 2009, and I'm not sure I've made it since.  Which is a great shame, because it's a very deliciously fluffy chocolate cake.  Seems we don't often have that much red wine left over.  Funny, that.


Fortunately these had much better presentation skills than the scones.  Which is more than can be said for Toby, after he'd finished licking out the empty melted chocolate pot.


 And finally, it was Graham's birthday last week.  He likes a good solid Christmas-type cake, but I didn't have time to do a proper rich fruit cake.  So I made the fruit cake from Jane Brocket's Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, which is a great collection of recipes for food mentioned in children's books.  Make your own Malory Towers midnight feast, kind of thing.



The fruit cake was moist and spicy and would go well in a feast at any time of day or night, especially once I'd covered it with marzipan and icing.  Toby helped to decorate it with M&Ms.  I was going to go for something simple like "DAD" but he insisted on the car.  I'm sure the fact that it meant there were twice as many M&Ms on the cake had absolutely nothing to do with it.



Happy 4th birthday, Graham!


Friday, 16 May 2014

Donkey drama

It was when the donkeys started nibbling my arm that I decided the time had come for action.  Launching myself over the gate, I nervously approached a lady with hot pink hair.  "I'm very sorry," I started, "but could you possibly show me the way out?"

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Donkey_1_arp_750px.jpg

In case you think I've started blogging about my dreams, let me assure you that I was wide awake at the time.  The walk had started off innocently enough.  Theo was happily ensconced in the carrier, and we strode cheerfully across a green and growing field under a sunny sky.  A couple of stiles and a little bridge later, we found ourselves in a small wood.  Butterflies flitted by, and hazel trees arched over the path, creating an inviting tunnel.

A few steps in, though, I realised it was a rather muddy tunnel.  The wet underfoot was quickly seeping through my battered trainers.  My jeans had been not only clean that morning, but also brand new.  They were now decorated with dirt splashes up to the knees.  Things were quickly heading downhill.

Sure enough, the path promptly disappeared amongst the trees.  I kept catching tantalising glimpses of open fields outside of the wood, but at every turn my way seemed to be blocked by barbed wire and brambles.  Finally I found what appeared to be some kind of track, albeit one composed of knee-high wet grass trying to grow in a stream.  By this time my sodden shoes were beyond help.  I sploshed through.

We reached another dead end.  On my left was a broken sign with the name of the wood.  "Walkers welcome on waymarked paths" it read.  Muttering darkly about the standard of waymarking on these particular paths, I turned to my right, where there was a metal gate with - oh joy! - a field and a house beyond.  But.  No stile, and a distinct lack of waymarking.  Could I climb a five-bar gate with a 14-pound infant attached to my front?

As it turned out, yes I could.  But as it turned out, that barn at the top of the field contained three very inquisitive donkeys with no sense of personal space.  At first I wasn't worried, thinking they'd just come for a quick sniff.  Donkeys are pretty docile creatures, I thought.  But they pushed in closer.  And closer.  Hairy noses at every turn, and questing mouths taking much too close an interest in Theo's dangling feet.  And my arm.  Ouch!  By this point they jostled us up against the gate, but I didn't dare open it in case they all stampeded.  So it was up over the top again, and into, effectively, someone's front garden.

Fortunately the woman mowing the grass wasn't as alarming as her day-glo hair might suggest.  She took the arrival of an extremely muddy mother and baby entirely in her stride. Shutting off the mower, grabbed the largest dog, yelled at the other three, and walked me to the front gate.

I'll never look at donkeys in quite the same way again.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Flexitarianism

http://brainybetty.com/bwART2004/trapeze_artist.jpg


Hey folks!  I learnt a new word today!  I can now proudly proclaim myself to be a flexitarian.  Yes, I wish that meant I'm in training to be a trapeze artist.  Or that I'm a leading world expert on the chemical properties of stretchy materials.  All it actually means is that I don't eat meat that much.

Well, big deal.  That lumps me in with a majority of the world's population, many of whom have no choice about the matter.  So why the need for a fancy new word?  Because, it seems, that we in the prosperous West have come to regard having bacon for breakfast, chicken sandwiches for lunch and a steak for dinner as entirely normal.  But also because we in the prosperous West are starting to realise that might not be an entirely good idea.


You know about factory farming, of course.  The images of chickens crammed into tiny cages and pigs which never see the sunlight, which we push out of our minds when we reach for our plastic-wrapped package of sausages in the supermarket.  Of course we'd like to buy free-range and organic.  But ohmygoodnesslookattheprice!  Um, yes.  That's kind of the point.  Meat really shouldn't be that cheap.  The only way to make it so is by engaging in those intensive rearing practices.


But did you know about the environmental consequences?  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (their name in itself is a mouthful!) estimates that meat and dairy production is responsible for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Moreover, this news report states that: "The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources."  Yup, all that cow poo has to go somewhere.



None of this is exactly new.  I'm sure I had a book about going green when I was a kid, that explained how many cow farts it would take to drown London (due to rising sea levels, you understand) or words to that effect.  But it finally seems to be seeping into public consciousness.  This month there are at least three initiatives to get us to eat less meat.

If you can hardly contemplate giving up your daily burger, ease yourself in gently with Meat Free Mondays, which encourages you to make just one day of the week meatless (that'll be Tuesday, then).

Reckon you could do a bit more than that?  National Vegetarian Week challenges you to "Dare to go veggie" from Monday 19 - Sunday 25 May.  Or if you want to go the whole, erm, hog, Friends of the Earth are currently in the middle of their Meat Free May campaign.  I haven't been doing the whole thing, but have enjoyed trying some new recipes from mumsnet - one vegetarian dish for every day of the month.  The shakshuka has a brilliant name and tastes pretty good too, and I'm looking forward to trying the olive and spinach pasta bake.

So, whether you're vegetarian, flexitarian or just plain omnivorous, give some meat-free food a try!  I look forward to gaining some new flexi friends.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Of kings and kids

It was 1660, and Charles II had just been crowned King of England.  This was no ordinary succession; Charles' father had been executed over a decade earlier, and England had, since then, been not a monarchy but a republic.  And not a particularly cheerful republic, either.  Under the Lord Protectorship of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, theatres were closed, church music (except psalms) was forbidden, and even Christmas was banned.  The return of the king, however, ushered in a new period of flamboyancy in English art, drama and architecture, known as Restoration Style.  A man named George Vernon, building himself a brand new house southwest of Derby, embraced the new fashion enthusiastically.

"We've got to have a cupola!  What's a cupola?  You know, one of those little rounded tower-y things on the roof.  All the best houses have them now."

"And carvings!  And paintings!  No I mean real carvings.  Let's see just how many swags and curlicues we can fit on one ceiling."


"Don't forget the staircase.  I think a nice bowl of flowers would look perfect right there.  Even if it is overshadowed by those huge paintings."


"And of course, we have to have the longest Long Gallery ever.  With more carving. Just because."


"A library, too. A book-reader's dream of a library, with a spiral staircase and a balcony and floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with exciting literature."


Three centuries or so later, part of the house was turned into a Museum of Childhood.  Not so much of the ornamental carving, but a great deal of fun.  We tried our hands at jacks and hula-hooping, wound up mechanical toys, and were soundly insulted by the teacher in a Victorian classroom.  And played cars, of course.  Theo loved the flashing lights on this digger.


From a previous trip: a much younger Toby considers job options for children.


Yes, this is a strange angle - these bedrooms were attached to the ceiling!  Look how few toys kids used to have to play with.


Oh, the name of the house?  Sudbury Hall.