Monday, 31 August 2015

Monthly Munch: August 2015

The highlight of the month was definitely our three-day beach holiday.  We also managed to catch up with some friends in Bristol, way back at the beginning of the month, and enjoyed a day at Ashby and Willesley Vintage Festival - lots of steam engines, old tractors and vintage cars.  Graham has been out and about with the boys while I've been at work, and now we are heading full tilt towards the new school term.

Toby

In the driving seat of our holiday camper van

Shark mouth!

- has just got into proper Lego.  We've dug out a couple of boxes of Graham's old Lego and I have relived those childhood hours of pawing through endless pieces to find that one black four.

He made a helicopter and then drew a picture of it.

- enjoys watching children's craft and cooking programmes.  The funniest thing is that he commentates like a TV presenter when he makes something himself.  "And today you will need two milk bottle tops, four pipe cleaners and a cardboard box... See you next time for more crafting fun!"

- bought a Top Gear annual at a Hay-on-Wye secondhand book stall, when we stopped there on the way to Gower.  He was immensely proud of it.
On a bridge over the River Wye, with his annual

- did the obligatory Shaun the Sheep hunt during our trip to Bristol.  He also made great friends with my friend Naomi's son Luke, and with Graham's friend Sheridan.

All the Shauns are decorated differently, and will be auctioned for charity.

Theo




- looooves picking and eating fruit.  Gooseberries, plums, tomatoes and blackberries have all been enthusiastically consumed.


- runs outside when I get home from work - but not to see me, oh no!  He wants to get in the car.

Or a vintage tractor will do.
- has been driving Graham crazy all summer by getting into some kind of trouble the minute he's left alone.

- chats away like anything but still sees no need for actual words.  Why bother, when "Ba! Ba? Baaah!" clearly expresses everything he wants to convey?  And he can understand us, so that's all fine.  Obviously.


Thankful for:

- time to see friends in Bristol.

- those days of sunshine at the beach - I don't know what we would have done if it had rained.

- free fruit!

Recipe of the Month - Gooseberry Pie




Our local pick-your-own farm has some good old-fashioned English fruit.  This year we were a little late for strawberries, but we stocked up on gooseberries.  I usually default to fruit crumbles, as the easiest baked pudding, but this time I was requested to make a pie.  I make pies so seldom that I don't even have a proper pie dish, so the making of a gooseberry pie may well be a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Or alternatively, it may become an annual tradition.  Who knows?

According to Nigella Lawson, putting cornmeal in the pastry helps to stop it from going soggy.  It also helps to use up some of the large bag of cornmeal in my cupboard.  If you don't have any, I wouldn't worry.


Pastry
125g baking margarine or butter
200g plain flour
50g fine cornmeal
a few tbsp iced water to bind

Filling
500g gooseberries, topped and tailed
50g sugar
1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)

Make the pastry.  Rub the fat into the flour and cornmeal, then stir in the water gradually until it starts coming together, and gather into a ball.  Or whizz the fat, flour and cornmeal in a food processor, add the water gradually and pulse, then tip out and form into a ball.  Divide into two, one portion a bit larger than the other, wrap in cling film or a bag, and put into the fridge for half an hour.

Meanwhile, stew the gooseberries with the sugar for five minutes until they've softened a bit and gone juicy.  Mix the cornflour with a splash of cold water and stir it in.  Leave to cool.  Taste and see if it's sweet enough.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F.  Roll out the larger piece of pastry to fit the base of a 20cm pie plate or springform tin or whatever you're using.  Tip in the gooseberries, then roll out a lid and lay it over.  Crimp the edges together in whatever fashion you prefer.  Brush the top with milk and put in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Serve with ice cream or custard.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Glamping in Gower

Rhossili Beach, day.
We arrived early.  The sea had reached its high tide mark and had just begun its long slow slide towards the horizon.  The morning sun lit up a sweep of pale sand, stretching from headland to distant headland, bounded behind by grassy dunes.  Ahead, the calm blue water reflected the unclouded sky above it, as lines of white foam pushed unhurriedly towards the shore.



Walking, the immensity warped distance.  Even brisk steps, barefoot on the packed sand, seemed to bring the grey rocks no closer.  Finally I reached the goal and stood triumphant on the seaweed-coated mound.  As I retraced the wavering line of my own footprints, the stick-figure silhouettes ahead resolved themselves into colourful people, and then into my family, absorbed in tunnels, hills and holes.





And wave jumping.  And shell collecting.  And making new friends.  And so many ands that Theo fell asleep in my arms on the way back to the car.

Kennexstone Campsite, evening.
The pan of pasta bubbles on the tiny gas hob, misting the camper van windows.  Theo has turned into an octopus; endless inquisitive arms pressing switches, opening hatches, reaching for the stove (No, Theo!  Hot!)  I extract plates and cutlery from diminutive cupboards, then wave them around helplessly trying to find somewhere to put them.  Outside, Graham and Toby have discovered the games chest and are practising their tennis skills.


Soon the night-time procession will start - adults carrying clanking bowls of dirty dishes to the washing up area, children clutching toothbrushes and wearing fuzzy onesies and wellies.  Toby is excited to climb the ladder to his top bunk and soon snuggles up.  Theo doesn't recognise any of this as bed - not his fenced-in lower bunk, nor the comfortable double in the hut, nor even the fold-out bed/seat in the van.  Finally we strap him into his car seat and he relaxes into sleep as the sun drops over the horizon.  Stealthily we slide him into bed - success! - and open a bottle of wine.





Port Eynon, morning.
sea-splashing
sand-digging
up-hilling
breath-holding steep-dropping
ripple-glittering air-brightening soul-lifting heart-soaring
and back down to
kite-flying
rock-pooling
beach-running
sandwich-munching
bye-waving







Weobley Castle, afternoon.
It has been uninhabited since the 16th century - empty for longer than most houses have been lived in.  But there is still a lot of it left.  Stairs are climbed, windows peered through, fireplaces stood in.  Toby finds imaginary clues to treasure among the ruins, while Theo runs up the grassy bank outside.  Even on this sunny day, the salt marshes make a bleak view, contrasting with the warm green hills we stand on.  Once, this was border territory, fiercely contested between English and Welsh.  Today the only invaders are tourists, and the castle is open to welcome them.  And to sell us salt-marsh lamb for dinner.






And if you're still puzzled by the title: Glamping is short for glamorous camping - all the fun of camping but with a proper bed to sleep in!  And in our case, towels, cooking utensils and a small bottle of fizzy wine provided.  We stayed on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, home to reputedly some of the best beaches in Britain - and had two days of beautiful weather to enjoy them.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Roasted tomatoes and courgettes with feta

This is really good.  And happens to use a few things which are growing in my garden right now.  Win win.  The original Waitrose magazine recipe, from which this is adapted, called it a salad, but it's more substantial than that word might make you think.
 

Roasted Tomatoes and Courgettes with Feta

1 small onion, finely chopped
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red pepper, in fairly large dice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
pinch of ground cinnamon
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 lemon, zest and juice
200g courgettes, sliced into strips
handful of basil leaves
50g feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 200°C.  On a large baking tray, scatter the onion on one side and put the tomatoes
and peppers on top.  Drizzle over 1 tbsp of the oil and sprinkle with the cumin and cinnamon.

On the other half of the tray, put the courgette slices.  Mix the other 1 tbsp oil, garlic and lemon zest and juice.  Spoon about half of this mixture over the courgettes and make sure they're coated.  Save the other half till later.

Put the tray in the oven for 20 minutes until everything is nicely roasted.  Divide the courgettes between two plates, pile the tomato mixture on top and drizzle with the dressing.  Scatter the basil and feta over the top and dig in.  It's nice with some crusty bread on the side.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Boys making things

I got this book out of the library in preparation for the summer holidays.  Of course, Toby being Toby, he instantly pounced on it and wanted to do every activity right that minute.  So we found a few that we had supplies for...

 1) Milk planets!  Of all the bizarre things... but it was cheap and easy and actually worked pretty well.  The idea is simply that you swirl drops of food colouring in a jam-jar lid of milk to create a planet-like effect.  I think liquid food colouring would have worked better than gel, but we got some rather nice marbling.


It also showed me how far Toby's concentration has come: a year ago he would have swished a few around and gone on to something else, but this time he spent a while on it and asked for more to do.


2) Gunge!  Cornflour (cornstarch) plus water equals shear thickening (ie it gets stiffer when you stir it) plus general gorgeous gloop.  An outside activity for sure.


3) Milkshakes!  Finally, a food activity he could actually eat!  We made more of a smoothie than a milkshake, but it went down well.  Peach and chocolate if I remember correctly.


4) Balloon racing car!  I had grave doubts as to whether this would do anything at all.  The whole setup sounded pretty flimsy - straws, wooden sticks, balloons, all attached to a plastic bottle.  Surprisingly, it did actually go!  The wheels were the weak point; thicker card would have been useful.

And a few things he made up himself: This is a junk model ferry.


And this is a new stamp pad he got with his winnings from the bake off.


We have embarked upon a third season of toddler themes for the summer, albeit in a rather half-hearted manner.  Still, even if it fulfils the demand for one or two craft activities a week, it's worth doing (the boy is all about the craft activities at the moment, I can tell you!)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Monthly Munch: July 2015

Somehow we seem to have got through another month!  This whole work thing sure makes the weeks fly by.  I've been enjoying it, but I feel like we're still adjusting to the new dynamic, trying to find the right balance.  At the moment it's been more like: leeeeaaan one way - leeeeaaaan the other way - ohhhhmygoodness will we all fall into the net - up! up! up! we're just about hanging on - maybe? maybe?  But we're still putting one foot in front of the other, and even managing to have a bit of fun along the way.


Toby



- finished preschool!  They gave them a grand send-off, with a day trip to the zoo, and a nice ceremony with lots of presents in a handmade personalised bag.

Sports day beanbag race.  The aeroplane pose was his own idea.

- took us on yet another trip to A&E, this time for a damaged toe.  He couldn't walk on it the whole day; we took him to the doctor, who wasn't sure and referred us to the hospital; the nice A&E nurse gave him a dose of paracetamol for the pain; by the time we left he was jumping up and down on both feet!

First time he's been in a pushchair for a while!

- has started testing our scientific knowledge.  In one lunchtime we had: Where does the rain come from?  When you push or pull something, what makes it move?  How does the electricity go along the wires?

Quotes

"That's an old toy, I haven't seen that one for ages.  Since about the 1980's."

Graham: "If you sit on my lap, I'll tickle you."
Toby: "Why would you do that to a nice person like me?"

Bookworm boys.

Theo was tapping Toby's chest: "Theo, I'm not a drum!  I'm not a bungalow drum... or whatever it is."  (Bongo, perhaps?)

Theo


Mr Cool.  With cake.

- can climb up and go down the rather tall slide at the local playground (eek!).  He is much more adventurous than Toby was at this age.

- uses his semi-words with great meaning and emphasis.

- enjoys giving people things.

Especially this book.  He will pin you down and force you to read it.

- makes a big fuss (usually short-lived) if you take him away from whatever trouble he's just found, eg: taking lids off pens; putting things in the toilet; removing all the tissues from the box; eating unripe strawberries; using green paint as lipstick.

Thankful for:


- discovering St Mary on the Bridge in Derby, a tiny medieval chapel which just happened to be open when we walked by.

- our next door neighbour, who fixed our lawnmower

- a nice long visit from my parents, which included my dad accompanying Toby and me to the hospital.

- family silliness!
Dressing up...

...and doing silly dances.

Recipe of the Month: Black Bean Burrito Bowl


I've made this recipe several times already since I found it in the March edition of the Tesco magazine, and it has disappeared extremely quickly, lending support to my theory that Mexican-style cooking is, for some reason, ideal children's food.

150g / 5 oz rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 small red pepper, finely diced
1 x 400g / 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
250ml / 1 cup vegetable stock
1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
crumbled feta or grated Cheddar
natural yoghurt
chilli sauce
tortilla chips

Put the rice in a pan with 300ml / 10 fl oz boiling salted water.  Bring to the boil, turn the heat right down and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan.  Cook the onion and celery until softened, then add the garlic, paprika and cumin.  Stir for a minute.  Add the red pepper, black beans and vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add seasoning to taste.

Scoop the rice into bowls and ladle the bean mixture over the top.  Put all the extra bits on the table so that people can add whatever they like.  Serves 2.